Support striking prisoners!

July 4, 2013


Since February, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have carried on a massive hunger strike to protest indefinite detention in abusive conditions with no end in sight. They are calling the world’s attention to the fact that those cleared for release, 86 in all, have been languishing for more than a decade without any charges. As the hunger strike gained publicity, President Obama suddenly recalled his long-abandoned promise to close Guantanamo and began a new round of lip service, yet the torture of people there continues.

As of June 14, 104 of the 166 captives at Guantanamo are on a hunger strike, 43 of whom are tortured twice daily with brutal force-feedings. Medical ethicists George Annas and Sondra Crosby wrote, “Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault.” [1] They call on the specially flown-in doctors to refuse to participate, in effect to mutiny. More than 150 medical professionals published an open letter in The Lancet asking President Obama to allow them to treat the prisoners.


Guantanamo, a creature of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, is the latest reminder of how little human rights mean to the U.S. government. Veterans Elliott Adams and Tarak Kauff, prisoners Norman Lowry and “Indiana Inmate 1776,” and seven other U.S. citizens are on hunger strikes or fasts in solidarity. They are right to draw a connection between Guantanamo Bay and prisons generally.

The practices developed in war are used on prisoners at home, just as practices developed to deal with U.S. prisoners become the basis for conduct against the “enemy” in, for example, Iraq’s Abu Ghraib. While the world was horrified in 2006 by images of debasing humiliation perpetrated by Pennsylvania prison-guards-turned-soldiers, prisoners in the U.S. were not at all surprised, as similar humiliations are their daily fare.

Just as the criminal injustice system is an essential part of preserving the exploitative structure of society, so the revolts, voices and thoughts of prisoners are part of the dialectics of liberation needed to revolutionize society and break its class structure.

On July 8th California prisoners being held in solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay “security housing unit” (SHU) for indeterminate periods will resume their hunger strike (see “SHU hunger strike,” p. 9). The demands–end group punishment; abolish “debriefing”; end the torture of long-term solitary confinement; provide nutritious food and expand available programs–share one basis: to recognize prisoners as human beings.

In forging the unity needed to hold a hunger strike and change the condition of all prisoners, they are rejecting the racial and ethnic divisions fostered and exploited by prison authorities, and reaching to create new human relations.

When prisoners anywhere go on a hunger strike, they are saying: you are killing us. And if we die, we want our death to have significance so others won’t experience the same torture and injustice.


Solitary confinement, institutionalized long-term denial of any human contact, is an indictment of the whole system–from Guantanamo Bay to California’s Department of “Corrections and Rehabilitation,” which tortures over 11,000 people in solitary. The U.S. admits to having over 80,000 people in solitary at any one time.

The struggle against solitary confinement has shaken up and inspired new sections of the population. The success of Mississippi’s prisons in reducing violence by shutting down solitary was so spectacular that Emmitt Sparkman, the head of its Department of Corrections, is now an open advocate of closing SHUs.

Bills currently debated in Texas, Florida and California would ban the solitary confinement of youth. A special report on torture by the UN has called for an international ban on solitary for any person under 18 years of age. [2] A national conversation on the use of solitary in detention camps, where people have not, in fact, been convicted of any crime, is beginning.

Support the hunger strikers in Guantanamo Bay and Pelican Bay by direct solidarity and by opposing the rotten class society that has built this vast torture apparatus to protect itself! The implicit humanism underlying the struggles of prisoners must be made explicit as an organic part of a banner of revolution.


1. Guantanamo Bay: A Medical Ethics-free Zone?” The New England Journal of Medicine, June 12, 2013

2. The August 5, 2011, report by Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, also found that “any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, depending on the circumstances” and “should be subject to an absolute prohibition.”

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