Guantanamo accused of 'cheating on numbers' over hunger strike
Guards in Guantanamo were accused of using the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to massage hunger strike numbers, after the US military claimed on Sunday that fewer than half of the inmate population are now on strike.
Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sam House said 81 detainees were still refusing food as part of a protest that began in February. The official figure was down 15 from the previous day and 25 from a recent high of 106.
It raised the prospect that the hunger strike - which has put a spotlight on conditions in the camp - may be on the wane. But lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees are suspicious of the figures, with one leading advocate for the camp's closure claiming that the military were "cheating on the numbers".
On Friday, House raised the prospect that the number of hunger strikers could fall rapidly in coming days, saying that 99 of the then 102 detainees taking part had eaten a meal within the past 24 hours.
Guantanamo guards require several days of sustained eating before prisoners are taken off the list of hunger strikers.
It is not known if the apparent drop in numbers shows that the protest is cooling, or if inmates are taking a pause in the strike to coincide with Ramadan.
Guantanamo spokesman Robert Durand had earlier suggested that most of the 166 prisoners held at the camp ate a lamb meal to break the first day of Ramadan, the traditional period of fasting from dawn to sunset.
But lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said his client, Shaker Aamer, had told him on Friday that guards were using Ramadan to massage the numbers.
"The military are cheating on the numbers as usual. Some detainees are taking a token amount of food as part of the traditional breaking of the fast at the end of each day in Ramadan, so that is now conveniently allowing them to be counted as not striking," Stafford Smith said.
Aamer has been held at Guantanamo for more than 11 years, but never been charged.
Stafford Smith said the focus on the numbers should not distract from the strikers' goal. "President [Barack] Obama should do as he promised four years ago - free the cleared prisoners and close the prison."