May 29, 2006

Hunger strike spreads among Guantanamo prisoners

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Seventy-five prisoners at the U.S. naval
base in Guantanamo were on a hunger strike on Monday, joining a
few who have refused food and been force-fed since August, a
military official said.

Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo
detention operation, called the hunger strike an attempt by the
prisoners to gain media attention and pressure the United
States to release about 460 men held there as enemy combatants.

Detainees are counted as hunger strikers if they miss nine
consecutive meals, and most of the 75 hit that mark on Sunday,
Durand said. Most are refusing food but continuing to drink
liquids, he said.

One of the recent group is being force-fed through a tube
inserted through the nose and into the stomach, as are three
others who have been on a hunger strike since August 8, Durand

Hunger strikes have flared periodically since the first
suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were taken to the U.S.
base in southeast Cuba in 2002.

Durand said the current hunger strike may be timed to a
series of hearings scheduled in June by the U.S. war crimes
tribunals at Guantanamo, which are formally called commissions.

"This new hunger strike is likely a coordinated, but
short-term, effort designed to coincide with the military
commissions hearings scheduled for the next several weeks, as
defense attorneys and media normally travel to Guantanamo to
observe this process," Durand said by e-mail.

He said it may also be related to an outbreak of violence
at the camp on May 18, when two detainees tried to commit
suicide by overdosing on hoarded medicine. Several others
attacked guards who rushed into a communal barracks to stop an
attempted hanging that was later determined to be a ruse.

The two who overdosed are expected to recover fully and
remain under observation at a hospital inside the detention
camp, Durand said.

"They are alert, talking, walking and recovering," he said.

Human rights groups have long criticized the indefinite
detention of foreign captives at Guantanamo. President George
W. Bush said recently he would like to close Guantanamo, but
administration officials said many of those held there are
dangerous men who should remain locked up somewhere, if not at

Military officials said 287 Guantanamo prisoners have been
freed or transferred to other governments, and negotiations are
ongoing to return more than 100 others to their homelands for
continued detention.