In a recent article published in The Atlantic entitled “Why the Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strikes Probably Won’t Work,” Olga Khazan argues that hunger strikes are only an effective form of protest if your cause is sympathetic to begin with. Historically, says Khazan, hunger striking has been an effective means not just of obtaining immediate demands, but of shifting the political climate surrounding the issue.
GTMO detainees, however, are not likely to reap these benefits. As men whose names are synonymous with terrorism and political turmoil, they don’t fit the archetype of the sympathetic, politically popular hunger strikers whose protests are often successful. Hunger strikes typically tend to occur in prison, and result in making the detainees’ captors look evil, soulless, and cruel. However, when the public views those engaging in the hunger strikes as evil, un-American terrorists, it is almost certain that the detainees will not win the “sympathy vote” and accomplish any real change through their hunger striking.
Arguably, history at Guantanamo has already proven Khazan’s point. Guantanamo has been open for about eleven years, and the detention center has seen several major hunger strikes. None of these hunger strikes have ever accomplished anything significant, aside from creating a health crisis at GTMO. When the detainees are already viewed by the public as “bad people” it makes it incredibly difficult for them to elicit the type of sympathy needed to pressure the government into bringing about any significant changes at GTMO.
Kelly Ann Taddonio, Research Fellow
Center for Policy & Research