By Julia Hannafin
Today marks day 47 of Berkeley resident Cynthia Papermaster’s open-ended fast. Papermaster, who has been a member of women’s social justice movement Code Pink for over six years, began her hunger fast on June 15 in solidarity with cleared-for-release Guantánamo Bay prisoners.
While actions have been taken towards closing Guantánamo, none have been successful. President Obama issued a directive in 2009 to close the prison within the next year, but the US Senate passed an amendment blocking funds needed to transfer or release prisoners, and the directive was shot down. In 2011, the President signed the Defense Authorization Bill, which in part placed additional restrictions on the transfer of prisoners to foreign countries and the mainland. Meanwhile Guantánamo is still open, with 166 prisoners behind its walls.
85 out of those men have been cleared for release, yet they remain in the prison. As protest, large numbers of detainees began hunger striking. At the height of the hunger strike, about 100 of the prisoners were fasting. Guantánamo’s controversial practice of force-feeding its prisoners on hunger strike is currently making headlines.
It was the massive hunger strike and force-feeding that pushed Papermaster to begin her fast. Papermaster is a community, peace and justice activist, a director of Berkeley No More Guantánamos, and a member of Code Pink’s Golden Gate Chapter. She also founded the National Accountability Action Network, which works for the prosecution of U.S. officials for complicity in torture, murder, and crimes against humanity.
Papermaster, who describes herself as having “an overabundance of compassion,” says she has been working for peace and justice for years. The stories of the men imprisoned at Guantánamo touched her. “These men deserve their freedom, and they deserve our assistance in getting released and resettled. We must act now, before there are any more deaths, any more suffering,” she wrote in a media release on her fast, which involves a 300 calories a day, liquid-only diet.
When will she cease her fast? Only when President Obama begins to free the 85 detainees cleared for release, she says.
In 2011, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution welcoming cleared-for-release Guantanámo prisoners to resettle in Berkeley, using private funds.
Recent news that the Obama administration intends to repatriate two Guantánamo Bay detainees to Algeria may soon end Papermaster’s fast, but she will hold on as long as necessary. Along with supporters, Papermaster spoke at the Berkeley City Council Tuesday on July 16 about her efforts, urging people to call for the prisoner’s release. “Obama needs to hear from people,” she said, making it clear that she would risk her own health for as long as need be.
Julia Hannafin is a summer intern at Berkeleyside and a student at Columbia University studying creative writing and American studies. She writes for the music blog The Metropolitan Jolt.