MIAMI — Navy medical staff at Guantanamo counted 28 of the 166 war-on-terror captives as Pentagon-defined "hunger strikers," the prison said Monday, reporting an increase over the weekend that included three men being treated at the prison hospital.
A total of 10 of the hunger strikers were getting liquid nutrition, which under prison camp protocol is fed to a captive who's been shackled into a restraint chair and had a feeding tube snaked up his nose into his stomach.
The three at the hospital were receiving tube feedings and intravenous drips, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the detention center spokesman who on Friday reported 26 hunger strikers, eight on tube feedings and two hospitalized.
Hunger strike figures have grown steadily in the 10 days since the detention center acknowledged a strike was under way at a communal prison called Camp 6, until recently Guantanamo's most populous prison camp by far. Lawyers for the detainees say it was triggered by an early February shakedown of the cells at Camp 6 that included what the captives considered poor treatment of their Qurans.
Attorney Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who represents Guantanamo detainees, said a Syrian client told him Friday that the flash point involved guards collecting Qurans from two Camp 6 cellblocks and finding a Muslim interpreter to search each one, "with guards and officers looking over his shoulder."
Guantanamo procedures require that only Muslim linguists conduct the searches, a rule that Durand said was strictly followed in February.
"That's when everyone went on hunger strike," Kassem said, quoting Abd al-Hadi Faraj, a Syrian detainee in his 30s who spoke to him by telephone Friday and said he was on the hunger strike sine Feb. 6. Faraj was suffering "severe and constant stomach pains, migraines, dizziness, and vomiting blood," according to Kassem.
Detention camp officials counter that the blood-vomiting episodes are fake — either by detainees spewing ketchup or biting their tongues.
Defense Department policy forbids release of the list of those the U.S. military defines as hunger strikers, making it impossible to know if the men the lawyers describe as hunger strikers are the same as those the Pentagon defines as having refused at least nine meals in a row. The military says it uses a constellation of factors including overall health, weight loss and whether a captive truly collapses to decide whether a detainee meets its criteria to be considered a hunger striker.
Commanders also say that some of the self-described hunger strikers are probably eating food from the communal camp pantry or accepting meals from guards when other detainees aren't looking.