Gitmo detainees seek court order allowing communal prayer

A group of hunger-striking detainees at Guantánamo Bay is contesting the U.S. government’s refusal to let them pray communally during Ramadan. 

A number of prisoners began a hunger strike in February in protest of their indefinite detention at the Cuba facility.  Since then, some have been force-fed and kept in solitary confinement over their refusal to eat, lawyers for the prisoners argue. 

Ten days into the Islamic holy month of prayer and fasting, they are demanding a federal court injunction lifting the restrictions and allowing the men to pray together. 

“The right of religious free exercise is a core American value, and to deprive the Guantánamo Bay detainees of that right does great damage to America in the eyes of the world in general and the world’s Muslims in particular,” attorneys for Ahmed Belbacha, Nabil Hadjarab and Shaker Aamer argued.

During Ramadan, Muslims traditionally recite portions of the Qur’an while standing and sitting alongside one another.

“Absent an immediate injunction prohibiting the deprivation of petitioners’ right to pray communally during Ramadan this year, that right will have been irretrievably lost,” the attorneys contend.

The motion, filed Thursday in federal district court, follows a judge’s denial of the prisoner’s bid to stop the government from force-feeding them with nasogastric tubes.

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer concluded that the request was outside of her jurisdiction and that “there is nothing so shocking or inhumane in the treatment of Petitioners” to raise a constitutional concern that might necessitate review.  

Further, she said, the prisoner’s real complaint was that they are not being allowed to commit suicide by starvation, citing numerous court rulings recognizing the government’s duty to prevent inmate suicides.