A guide to hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay

For the past seven months, detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp have been on hunger strike protesting, in part, their indefinite detention and alleged mistreatment. Although this action has been one of the most widely publicized, it's certainly not the first. Hunger strikes started almost immediately after the camp was opened 11 years ago and have continued regularly since then. This timeline documents the evolving role of hunger strikes as a form of protest.
Hunger strikes (2002-2013)
Approx. detainee population
Detainees on hunger strike
Exact end date unknown
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
Key hunger strikes
The first hunger strike (Jan. to May 2002)

The camp's first strike started in late January 2002 and peaked at 150 detainees, roughly the entire camp population at the time. The strike started over allegations of Quran mistreatment and ended in early February when officials apologized.

A list of demands (June 2005 to Feb. 2006)

Detainees present officials with a nine-point list of demands, chief among which was bringing the camp in line with the Geneva Conventions. In response, officials promised to address the issues and allowed the creation of a detainee council to represent detainees to administrators. These measures ended the strike, but it resumed weeks later when officials disbanded the council and failed to follow the principles of the Geneva Conventions.

Long-term hunger striker (Aug. 2005 to today)

Adbul Rahman Shalabi, a Saudi detainee suspected of — but never charged with — being a bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, launches a hunger strike to protest camp conditions. He will become the camp's longest hunger striker and remains on strike today. He has been diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition where the stomach cannot properly empty food.

President Obama's inauguration (Jan. 2009)

Accounts differ, but between 42 and 70 detainees launch a hunger strike apparently to gain awareness around President Barack Obama's first inauguration. A letter at the time from detainee Oybek Jabbarov to his lawyer reads in part:

"Please don't bring any nutrients or drinks. Because I can't eate [sic] or drink anything besides natural air." — Jan. 26

Seven-month strike (Feb. 2013 to present day)

Further alleged mistreatment and searches of Qurans leads to one of the most significant strikes in the camp's history, which is on-going to this day. The strike peaked in June at 106 out of approximately 168 detainees and resulted in dozens and dozens of force-feedings — a practice international groups have condemned. The strike lost momentum after the start of the holy month of Ramadan in July.

The hunger strikes in detail: timeline walkthrough
Sources: Department of Defense, The New York Times, NPR, Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, CNN, AFP, The Guardian and Al Jazeera America reporting.
Methodology Notes: For strikes with an unknown duration, they are displayed as lasting for two weeks following by a graphical ellipsis. For strikes with differing accounts of how many detainees were involved, the graph shows an average of those numbers. All figures are reported and explained in the accompanying text.