U.S. reports surge in Guantanamo hunger strike

By Will Dunham

12/29/05 -- -- WASHINGTON, Dec 29 (
Reuters) - The number of Guantanamo Bay prisoners taking part in a hunger strike that began nearly five months ago has surged to 84 since Christmas Day, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

Forty-six detainees at the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, joined the protest on the Christian holiday on Sunday, said Army Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a military spokesman.

The prisoner population, which the Pentagon says numbers about 500, is believed to be uniformly Muslim. Only nine have been charged with any crime.

"There's been a significant increase in the number that have been added to the hunger strike," Martin said by telephone from Guantanamo.

Lawyers for some of the detainees call the strike a protest of jail conditions and prisoners' lack of legal rights. The military has denied allegations of torturing detainees.

Medical personnel were force-feeding 32 of the hunger strikers with plastic tubes inserted into the stomach through through the nose, the military said. Asked the purpose of the force-feeding, Martin said, "Because our policy is to preserve life."

Military officials define a hunger striker as a detainee who has refused nine straight meals, and often refer to the strike as a "voluntary fast" and force-feeding as "enteral feeding."

The detainees began the strike in early August after the military reneged on promises to bring the prison into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, their lawyers said. Detainees are willing to starve to death to demand humane treatment and a fair hearing on whether they must stay, the lawyers said.

Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan and have been held for nearly four years.


Amnesty International official Jumana Musa said this week's surge illustrates the strike's seriousness.

"You are talking about a prison population of hundreds who have decided that with no conceivable change in their future that they just don't care to live anymore, or they are going to make a statement in dying," Musa said.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer for three detainees including Bahraini striker Isa Almurbati, said, "Isa told me that he will end the hunger strike when he is sent home. His philosophy is that he should be sent home or allowed to die because the idea of spending the rest of his life at Guantanamo without any due process is simply unbearable."

In a statement, the military said a hunger strike "is consistent with al Qaeda training and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention and bring pressure on the United States government to release them."

Martin said the peak participation in the strike was on Sept. 11, the fourth anniversary of the attacks on America orchestrated by the al Qaeda network, with 131 detainees taking part. Human rights lawyers have estimated at least 200 detainees were participating at the peak.

"Enemy combatants on voluntary fast are closely monitored by medical professionals, receive excellent medical care, and when required, the appropriate amount of daily nutrition and hydration through enteral feeding," the statement said.

In an October court filing, Julia Tarver, a lawyer for detainees, said U.S. personnel violently shoved tubes through the men's noses and into their stomachs without anesthesia or sedatives. "When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like 'look what your religion has brought you,'" Tarver wrote.

Martin said called "totally false and baseless" allegations of deliberately inflicting suffering in this feeding process.

See also - Mahatma Gandhi is probably the most famous proponent of political fasting.

1998-2001 Reuters Limited.

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