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September 30, 2005

Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strikes

Human Rights First is deeply troubled by the repeated hunger strikes by detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay -- the latest symptom of the policy confusion surrounding the legal status of those held at the Base. Justice, fair play, and respect for the rule of law are at the core of America"s most basic values, and the United States should act promptly to bring operations at Guantanamo back in line with those standards.

Attorneys who have recently visited detainees at the Base report that as many as 200 detainees have participated in the latest hunger strike, with 15 detainees hospitalized and at least thirteen detainees being forcibly fed intravenous fluids. Yet many of the details remain unclear. Most families with sons, husbands or fathers at Guantanamo have no way of knowing whether their relatives are participating in the strike, or what their current conditions are.

Meanwhile, over a year since the Supreme Court confirmed the detainees" right to contest the lawfulness of their detentions in a court, the government continues to oppose efforts to provide the detainees a full and fair opportunity before a judge. Various processes created after the Supreme Court"s decisions, such as Combatant Status Review Tribunals and Administrative Review Panels fail to satisfy the Court"s ruling. The government also continues to place constant burdens on the effective assistance of counsel, including six-week delays of mail delivery, frequent failure to deliver detainee mail to attorneys, no phone communication, and significant limitations on attorney"s access to their clients. The Defense Department should permit court proceedings to take place consistent with U.S. legal obligations.

In addition, U.S. policy still in place at Guantanamo continues to authorize interrogation techniques such as sleep adjustment, dietary manipulation, prolonged isolation and extreme environmental manipulation that may alone or in combination amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The most recent Defense Department investigation into Guantanamo practices confirmed the authorization of techniques that included sexual humiliation, the use of dogs, isolation for periods of up to 160 days, forced nudity and tying a detainee to a leash. Such practices must come to an immediate halt. Interrogation policy should be brought into compliance with longstanding U.S. military doctrine that was in accordance with the laws of war, human rights law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. For those who are suffering the adverse effects of such treatment, or are participating in hunger strikes, the government must attend to their medical needs in a way consistent with professional medical ethics guidelines, and must keep their families regularly informed of their loved ones" conditions.

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