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The Reason for Hunger Strikes-from Northern Ireland to Guantanamo


By Ann Wright

I'm in Northern Ireland and yesterday on May 20, 2013, I spoke with several members of the Northern Ireland Parliament. With over 100 prisoners in Guantanamo on a 100 day hunger strike, the Obama administration would be wise to talk to some of them too--about the importance and legacy of hungerstrikes.

In 1981, Pat Sheehan was one of the Maze Prison hunger strikers-a hunger strike that brought huge international attention to the Northern Ireland "Troubles," with the goal of forcing the British government to treat those imprisoned as political prisoners, not criminals. Hunger strikers demanded the right to wear civilian clothes, the right to education and recreational opportunities, freedom from work obligations, and a set of other benefits not afforded to other inmates.Pat was on the hunger strike for 55 days and still alive when the hunger strike was called off by the prisoners.

 Bobby Sands became the most famous of the 10 who died during the hunger strikes when he was elected to Parliament while on the hunger strike-Francis Hughes, Raymond McLeish, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, Michael Devine also died.

After one prisoner died from his lung punctured from a feeding tube through the throat, the British ended force feeding those on hunger strikes.  The British government eventually granted most of the hunger strikers’ demands.  Public opinion changed dramatically in favor of those imprisoned and on the hunger strike.

Now Pat Sheehan is a member of the Northern Ireland Parliament. The Good Friday Peace Accord brokered by the Clinton administration brought to a close, a violent chapter in British and Northern Ireland relationships.  The Peace Accord allowed former political prisoners to become part of the political process.

One never knows the future of those who have been imprisoned for political crimes--after peace talks, many may become political leaders, like Gerry Adams and Pat Sheehan.  No one can predict the future paths of those in Guantanamo, but one can be assured that the continued imprisonment of those cleared for release from Guantanamo is disastrous for the individual and for the United States.

President Obama would be wise to call former hunger striker and now Northern Ireland Parliamentarian Pat Sheehan!

About the Author:  Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  She also worked as a US diplomat for 16 years and served in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the US government in 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.  In 2006, she was on a delegation to Guantanamo, Cuba to challenge the US prison at Guantanamo.

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