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May 08, 2013

Guantanamo Prison Hunger Strike Grows

by Luis Ramirez

In the past two weeks, the number of detainees on hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has grown to 100 - more than half of the 166 men being held there.  The hunger strike has succeeded in drawing attention to their indefinite detention, and their treatment at the hands of the U.S. military, which runs the prison.  Among the chief complaints is the practice of force-feeding prisoners.
 
It is a daily routine at the detention facility; military staff, including a medical team, check to see who is eating and who is not.  
 
For the staff at Joint Task Force Guantanamo - whose mandate is to be safe, humane, legal, and transparent - the decision to force feed by inserting a tube into a detainee's nose and down to his stomach, is a matter of procedure. 
 
Navy Captain Robert Durand is a spokesman for the Guantanamo facility. 
 
“When a detainee refuses food, when they miss nine consecutive meals and declare an intent to be a hunger striker, we label them as a hunger striker and we start monitoring their health.  When they lose enough weight to endanger their health potentially, before they get to that point, usually about 85 percent of their ideal body weight, our joint medical group, the doctors and nurses and corpsmen, will make a recommendation to the joint task force commander that that detainee be enterally fed," he said. 
 
The hunger strike began in February.  The detainees, held for years, are protesting the U.S. government's failure to try those it suspects of being terrorists, or release the 86 detainees who have been cleared.  
 
President Obama promised to close the prison when he took office in 2009, but his administration blames his failure to do so on Congressional restrictions that require security guarantees from the countries that would receive them.  Recently, he restated his desire to see the prison closed.
 
But words are not enough for advocates pressing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to authorize the release of those who have been cleared. 
 
Attorney David Remes represents 17 of the hunger strikers. 
 
"My message to Hagel is to work with the administration and begin signing the national security waivers that Congress granted the president, which provided him with the authority and flexibility to transfer detainees who are at Guantanamo.  The administration can not keep passing the buck to Congress," he said. 
 
U.S. military officials say their responsibility is limited to providing care for the detainees. 
 
“Our job here is to make sure that they are held in a safe and humane manner and that when the time comes to transfer them, or release them, we will do that.  But until that time comes, you can be assured that we will do our job to safely and humanely detain them to the best of our ability," said Durand. 
 
Just a few months ago, the issue of the Guantanamo detainees was largely ignored by the U.S. media.  The hunger strike, and accounts of force-feeding, have put it back on Washington's radar.