October 7, 2005

ICRC says hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay “serious”

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) said on Friday that prisoners were on hunger
strike at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison camp and that the
situation there was serious.

But spokeswoman Antonella Notari declined to comment on
Thursday's statement by a defense lawyer that the action
involved 200 of 500 prisoners and that 21 were being force-fed.

The humanitarian agency, which last visited the U.S. naval
base in Cuba in late September, was in contact with U.S.
authorities about the situation, ICRC chief spokeswoman
Antonella Notari said.

"There is a hunger strike, the situation is serious, and we
are following it with concern," Notari told Reuters.

"During our recent 10-day visit we were able to visit the
infirmary, see the detainees and speak with them as well as the
American authorities," she added.

The ICRC backs a 1975 Tokyo declaration by the World
Medical Association stating that doctors should not participate
in force-feeding, but keep prisoners informed of the sometimes
irreversible consequences of their hunger strike, she added.

Amnesty International and human rights lawyer Clive
Stafford Smith, a lawyer representing some 40 detainees, said
on Thursday that U.S. authorities were keeping 21 alive by
forcing food into their stomachs through tubes pushed up their


The prisoners are shackled to their beds 24 hours a day to
stop them removing the tubes, he said.

"This is the 56th day of the hunger strike," said Stafford
Smith before making a comparison with the Irish republican
campaign of 1981, when 10 prisoners starved themselves to death
in protest at British policy in Northern Ireland.

The United States opened the prison camp in January 2002.
Many detainees were seized in Afghanistan. Only four have been
charged and many have been held more than three years. Some
former prisoners have said they were tortured.

Force-feeding is not banned under international law, but
the World Medical Association declaration, endorsed by the
American Medical Association, sets guidelines for doctors
involved in hunger strikes and says they should not participate
in force-feeding.