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75 inmates at Guantanamo on hunger strike

An unidentifiable detainee spends time outside his cell in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, on July 6, 2005.
An unidentifiable detainee spends time outside his cell in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, on July 6, 2005.Andres Leighton / AP file
/ Source: staff and news service reports

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.

Navy 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 said.

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 Guantanamo.

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.