Quarter of Guantanamo Bay inmates being force-fed
Numbers on hunger strike increase as detainees see no movement on Obama vow to close base
The number of hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees being force-fed by military medical teams has jumped to 41 and now makes up a quarter of the US-run camp's prisoner population.
The new figures reveal a continued deterioration of conditions at the camp, with the hunger strike by many of the 166 detainees entering a fourth month amid little sign of it ending.
In all, 103 inmates are now on hunger strike, with four in hospital. The number being force-fed was 31 on the eve of a speech by US President Barack Obama last month in which he promised to work towards closing the base and allowing the release of many of the 86 inmates held there who have been cleared for transfer.
Yet, despite the warm reception for that speech, the hunger strike continues to increase in scope as more detainees end up being force-fed via nose tubes into their stomachs.
"The hunger strike grows for two reasons - the military's refusal to negotiate with the men in a productive way and because the president has taken no action in spite of his words," said Carlos Warner, a lawyer who represents several of the detainees on strike.
The protest began in February after a search of cells by guards turned up contraband but also led to accusations of heavy-handedness. The strike grew rapidly, creating global headlines and focusing a spotlight on the inmates' plight. Many, including those cleared for release, have been detained without trial for more than a decade.
It also highlighted Obama's failure to fulfil a 2008 campaign promise to close the base. In his May speech Obama repeated that vow and described Guantanamo as a moral problem for America that needed to be solved. He lifted a self-imposed US ban on prisoner transfers to Yemen - which is keeping 56 cleared Yemenis from being sent back to their home country - and said he would appoint a top official to handle releases. However, so far no one has been named to the job, nor has any detainee been transferred.
Lawyers said the tempo of the strike was not changing. "We have had several phone calls this week with our clients and there is no sign of the strike ending. The men are suffering. One client reported he has lost 70 pounds (32 kilograms)," Warner said.
But a military spokesman insisted there was no threat to the detainee population's health, despite so many inmates being force-fed by a medical team flown to the base for the task.
"The detainees' health is constantly monitored by numerous specialists, so in that regard, no, we are not concerned about the number [of detainees being force-fed] per se, as we will continue to provide safe and secure care and custody of the detainees as they continue their protest," said Colonel Samuel House.
Detainees have described to their lawyers by phone and in letters a hard regime, with confiscations of basic items, like toothbrushes. They have also accused guards of being rough with them while force-feeding and using the threat of intimate body searches as a way of putting detainees off having phone calls with their lawyers. The military has strongly denied those allegations.