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May 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm

The Atlantic Quotes Scanlan on Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike

The Atlantic quoted Dr. Stephen J. Scanlan, Associate Professor of Sociology, in an April 2 article on “Why the Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strikes Probably Won’t Work; Starving is surprisingly effective form of prison protest. But only if your cause is sympathetic to begin with.” Scanlan teaches in the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University.

Nearly 70 percent of hunger strikes occur in prison, and government entities are the target of the vast majority of them, according to research by Stephen J. Scanlan, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio University, who examined hunger strikes over the past century. Few (6 percent) of hunger strikers die. Rather, about three-quarters of these protests are called off voluntarily — usually because demands have been met, at least to some extent. What’s more, Scanlan found that nearly 76 percent of strikers get at least some of what they want….

However, hunger strikes are most effective when the protesters’ predicament presents an obvious solution, something Guantanamo doesn’t necessarily have. President Obama pledged years ago to close the facility, but now that the detainees are banned from the U.S. and can’t be sent back to their home countries out of fears that they’ll join back up with terrorist groups, so they’re effectively living in a geographic and legal limbo.

And as Scanlan notes, hunger strikes work best when bystanders and third parties are mobilized to join in — something the Gitmo prisoners don’t have the advantage of, at least not yet.

And the detainees also lack another crucial ingredient of successful hunger strikes: They aren’t particularly sympathetic.

Saddam Hussein’s 19-day hunger strike in captivity in 2006 was mocked by Americans and Iraqis alike (as was Iraq War protester Cindy Sheehan’s fasting protest that same year, especially after she blogged about sneaking a coffee “with ice cream in it.”)

“No matter how powerful the person, no matter how favorable the media coverage, if the willingness of the current political leadership and context isn’t there, the success of the strike is not likely to come,” Scanlan said. “We still live in a context where people for the most part are not sympathetic toward Gitmo prisoners.”

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