End 22 Years Of Injustice

Celebrities Fasting With the Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoners That Donald Trump Is Allowing to Die

A photo from one of Roger Waters' shows featuring people dressed as Guantánamo prisoners, as used by Roger in his recent post announcing that he was fasting for 24 hours in solidarity with the hunger strikers at Guantánamo.

By Andy Worthington, October 21, 2017

It’s two weeks since the international human rights organization Reprieve let the world know that, under Donald Trump, the military at Guantánamo has come up with a disturbing new way of dealing with hunger strikers — allowing them to die. Previously, long-term hunger strikers who lost one-fifth of their body weight but refused to stop hunger striking were force-fed — a barbaric process that experts view as tantamount to torture, and a view that, here at "Close Guantánamo," we endorse. However, although experts also state that competent hunger strikers must be allowed to die if they wish, that has always struck me as an unacceptable option for prisoners who have never been convicted of a crime. The third option, which should be implemented, is for the U.S. government to do what the hunger strikers want — which is to be charged or released.

I broke the news of this disturbing policy change on my website on October 7, and followed up with an analysis of the New York Times’ coverage four days after. Since then there have been op-eds by the two prisoners represented by Reprieve, Ahmed Rabbani (in Newsweek) and Khalid Qassim (in the Guardian), and to accompany the coverage — finally shining a light back on Guantánamo after, for the most part, silence on the topic since Donald Trump took office — Reprieve launched a petition to Donald Trump, asking for him to allow independent medical experts to assess the health of the hunger strikers, and to close Guantánamo for good, which currently has nearly 22,000 signatures, and also encouraged supporters to fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, led the way with the fasting (for five days straight), and was soon joined by others. Over a thousand days have been pledged so far, with some well-known people joining in, like music legend Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, who wrote on Facebook:

"Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim.
Have been in Guantánamo for 15 years
Neither man has been charged
There is no evidence either man has committed a crime
They have been on hunger strike since 2013
The only way they have to protest their innocence
And affirm their humanity
Until three weeks ago they were strapped into restraint chairs
Twice a day and force-fed supplements through their noses
Since September 20th the supplements have been withheld
They are being left to die
Ahmed weighs 95lbs
Reprieve is trying to save their lives
Alongside my comrades at Reprieve
I am fasting for 24hrs, 15th October 2017
Tomorrow I shall eat
I am ashamed.
Restiamo Umani."

On October 17, Tom Watson MP, the deputy leader of Britain’s Labour Party, joined the fast, writing in the Guardian:

"I'm following the Guantánamo diet in solidarity with two men who are being slowly starved to death by President Trump.

"His administration has changed its practice towards detainees who choose to refuse food in protest at their incarceration. Previously they were force-fed, a cruel and inhuman punishment in itself. Now they are no longer fed at all. Make no mistake, these men will die at the hands of Donald Trump if nothing is done.

"The human rights organisation Reprieve got in touch last week to alert me to the situation of two of their clients, Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qasim [aka Qassim]. They have been on long-term hunger strike in protest at their indefinite detention in the notorious prison camp without charge or fair trial. Neither man wants to die, but after over a decade of torture, injustice and indifference, they are desperate. The only thing they feel they can do, the only control they have, is to refuse food.

"On 20 September, the authorities in Guantánamo stopped feeding Ahmed and Khalid altogether. It is no coincidence that this has happened under Trump, a man who has talked of wanting to 'load up' the island prison with more 'bad dudes'. As I write this, the two men have had nothing in their stomachs for 26 days.

"Worse than just starving them, the medical teams at the American military base have stopped providing them with any treatment or even monitoring their health. That is criminal neglect, pure and simple.

"After 26 days … Khalid and Ahmed are almost certainly close to severe organ failure. It is a matter of time until irreversible damage is done; we may have already passed the point of no return. Make no mistake, force-feeding is cruel. But this dramatic change in practice is sadistic."

Tom Watson also wrote:

"So what can I and other MPs do about this?

"First, we can't let these two men die in silence. They are among the most powerless in the world and have faced grave injustice at the hands of our close ally. We need to take on their plight as our own and raise the alarm, on social media and in the House of Commons.

"We should be asking questions of ministers. Why have they not spoken publicly about this? Have they raised it at the highest levels with their counterparts in the U.S.? What responses have they got?

"And we should be demanding that the prime minister show some leadership. Earlier this month, Theresa May said she wanted Britain to provide a 'moral lead in the world'. This is her chance. She has closely allied herself with President Trump, holding his hand in Washington and inviting him here. She must now tell him to save the lives of Ahmed and Khalid, and she should go one step further.

"She should tell President Trump to close down Guantánamo Bay and give the men locked up there what they have been asking for: a fair trial or a release. When America abandons our shared values, we must play the role of the critical friend."

On October 19, Clive Stafford Smith appeared on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, revealing how other supporters fasting in solidarity with the prisoners include the actor and director Mark Rylance (who recorded a short video here), the actor David Morrissey, the comedian Sara Pascoe, and French-born actress Caroline Lagerfelt.

The Democracy Now! feature is below:

That same day the Pakistani politician — and former cricketing legend — Imran Khan had an op-ed published in the Washington Post, looking at Ahmed Rabbani's case, and entitled, "A Pakistani man is starving to death in Guantánamo. We have a duty to stop it."

And on October 20, the British writer and actor Stephen Fry joined the fast, posting on Twitter the following message: "Obviously a day without food is nothing for a well-fed, well-upholstered man like me, but doing nothing seems like a feeble option in the face of such brutal, cruel and barbaric injustice."

I hope you agree, and will be able to help, whether by signing the petition, joining the rolling fast, or contacting your elected representatives if you're in the U.S. — find your Senators here, and your Representatives here. The sad truth is that, commendable though their involvement is, all of them, with the exception of Tom Watson, have been on fasts before, for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015, or have actively called for the closure of Guantánamo, as have dozens of Watson's colleagues in the British Parliament, whereas, unfortunately, few American celebrities have ever stood up for the rights of the Guantánamo prisoners, or called for the prison's closure, and it is, frankly, almost inconceivable that a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives would fast in solidarity with the prisoners or even publicly take a stand with campaigners calling for the prison's closure.

If you want to get involved, you can also send us a photo with our poster urging Donald Trump to close Guantánamo, an initiative that we’ve been running all year, in an effort to chip away at the indifference towards Guantánamo that was malignantly blossoming until this latest outrage broke out of its confines.

It’s time to make Donald Trump pay attention — and to get Guantánamo closed once and for all. Are you with us?