Military Says Gitmo Hunger Strike Ending, Inmates' Lawyers Disagree


"Making them eat prison yard dirt doesn't count." - Lawyers
Credit: AslanMedia / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

According to military officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention, an ongoing hunger strike may be nearing its end.

On July 10, the hunger strike reached a peak participation rate of 106 of the 166 being held at the facility. Since then, the numbers have waned. As of Sunday, the prison's official list indicates that it has dropped to 81 detainees.

In a CBS article, the detention center's director of public affairs, Navy Capt. Robert Durand made several statements about the strike, which began in February. "We are just pleased that they are for the most part eating and for the most part we are having good order and discipline in the camps." He also explained that "We have made no changes in our criteria. Many detainees who were on hunger strike are now eating, and have eaten enough consecutive meals to remove the status as hunger striker."

Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, who CBS identified as a base spokesman, said "We can't speculate why they are choosing to come off hunger strike. It may be because of Ramadan or because they feel they've gotten their message across."

However, others involved provide a different perspective on the situation, which has been marked by several controversies, such as the Red Cross's decision to intervene in March.

"You can't trust the military's numbers… I have no indication the strike is ending," said Carlos Warner, a federal defense attorney who represents several of the inmates.

Another lawyer who represents detainees at Guatanamo provided further insight. Citing the religious month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast during the day but eat before dawn and after sunset, Clive Stafford said, "Some detainees are taking a token amount of food," which "is now conveniently allowing them to be counted as not striking."

Likewise, in a discussion with the New York Times, another representative of detainees, David Remes, expressed doubt about the camp's official claims:

Perhaps the authorities finally made hunger striking such a horrendous experience that some men, at least, are dropping out. Perhaps some men feel the hunger strike has achieved its goals by forcing Guant√°namo back onto the national agenda and jump-starting the transfer process. There are still other ways to read the numbers. Until we speak with our clients, we can only speculate.

When inmates go on hunger strike, they are banned from communal settings, and are kept in individual cells.

The military force-feeds detainees whose weight and health has been compromised by the strike. A total of 45 men have been receiving the treatment, which involves forcing a lubricated tube into the nose and down the throat, since the beginning of July.

Although most of the detainees at Guantanamo remain uncharged or untried for the last decade, President Obama has not yet acted on his own calls to change the situation.