MIAMI -- Twenty-five Guantanamo prisoners have quit their hunger strike during Ramadan, according to the U.S. military, which reported on Sunday that Navy medical staff still considered 45 captives sufficiently malnourished to require forced feeding.
Prison spokesmen suggested they had broken part of the protest by adopting a new policy: Captives had to abandon their 5-month-old hunger strike to live in communal detention - where they can pray and eat in groups - after months alone in maximum-security lockdown.
"Detainees in communal living must agree to not hunger strike for their health and safety," Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a deputy prison camps spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.
To test it, the military last week adopted a sliding scale of communal captivity to coincide with Islam's holy month of Ramadan, when traditional Muslims shun food by day.
The best-behaved prisoners now get just six hours of lockdown a day. Others were getting released from their solitary cells for six or 12 hours, at prayer and mealtime. The military has described the ongoing experiment as involving about 80 captives inside the Pentagon's communal prison, Camp 6.
Hunger strike figures had steadily risen to participation by 106 of the captives, according to the prison's Navy medical staff. Then on Thursday, the military reported the first two quit the strike. More quit during the weekend.
When the military first acknowledged the hunger strike in March, House's boss, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said it was long-standing prison camps policy to permit hunger strikers to live communally. They could protest by refusing to eat, he said, as long as they cooperated with the guards, and followed orders to get shackled and taken to forced feedings.
Under the new system, described by House, being a hunger striker is a reason for disciplinary lockdown.
Military medical personnel consider meals missed, weight lost and other health issues to decide which captive should be designated for a forced feeding. For the procedure, Army guards strap a prisoner into a restraint chair for up to two hours twice daily and a tube is snaked up the nose and down the back of the throat of the immobilized prisoner to deliver a nutritional supplement to the prisoner's stomach.
Forty-five prisoners have been designated for force feeding since July 2.
But Durand has said that some of the men have chosen to drink a can of Ensure rather than get the forced feeding "enterally," as the military calls the tube feedings.
Durand described a Ramadan breakfast meal of lamb and rice as an apparent turning point at the prison.
Now, medical staff and guards are monitoring consumption.
The Pentagon holds 166 prisoners at Guantanamo in five separate prisons, a hospital and a psychiatric ward. A staff of 2,000 federal employees work there-including Army guards, Navy medics, contract cooks and intelligence analysts.