U.S. Military Sends More Medics To Gitmo As A Majority Of Detainees Are Now On Hunger Strike

(Photo: AP)

More than half of the 166 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison are on hunger strike, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. detention facility, and the number of detainees on hunger strike has increased sharply from just over 30 less than a month ago, to 84 today.

The situation has prompted the U.S. military to send more medical professionals to Gitmo to monitor the hunger strikers’ health and assist with force-feeding. Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House said a group of doctors, nurses and medics will arrive at the prison by the end of the month. “There was no specific trigger [for the increase in medical staff], other than the growing number of detainees that have chosen to hunger strike,” House said.

This latest Gitmo hunger strike began back in February after the detainees said guards mistreated their Qurans. The guards said they were checking the Qurans for weapons. But one lawyer representing nearly a dozen Gitmo prisoners told Reuters the current situation has more to do with frustration with their detention.

“It’s escalated because the men are desperate and they’ve hit a breaking point,” said Carlos Warner, a federal public defender from Ohio. “Really what is behind all this is the president abandoned his promise to close Guantanamo. The men know that, they’re desperate.”

Around 16 of the detainees are currently being force-fed liquid nutrition through a tube. Of those being force-fed, 4 have reportedly been hospitalized.

Force-feeding Gitmo detainees gained widespread attention earlier this month when one prisoner, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, wrote a New York Times op-ed describing the harsh treatment the process entailed. “I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone,” he said.

The Pentagon says that some detainees are restrained when being force-fed because it does not want to let any of them “commit suicide by starvation.”

But a bipartisan report released last week by a Constitution Project Task Force — which made headlines for its wider conclusion that the U.S. government tortured terror suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — condemned the use of force-feeding and said that authorities at Gitmo do not follow federal guidelines when administering feeding tubes. “[We] came out very strongly condemning force feeding,” said Task Force member Dr. Gerald Thomson. “We do not believe that force-feeding should be an approach to the hunger strike,” he said, adding, “given the level of brutality, [it] could extend to torture.”