Friday, June 02, 2006

One Fifth of Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike

One Fifth of Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike
By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - The number of prisoners on hunger strike at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay navy base grew by more than a dozen to 89 on Thursday, a spokesman for the controversial detention center said.

Six of those were being force-fed through tubes pushed into their stomachs via their noses, including three who had refused food since August, said Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand.

The U.S. military considers detainees to be on a hunger strike when they have skipped nine consecutive meals, and the number meeting that definition grew to 89 on Thursday from 75 on Monday, Durand said.

The U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba holds about 460 foreign men suspected by the United States of being al Qaeda and Taliban conspirators. Hunger strikes have waxed and waned since shortly after the first prisoners arrived in 2002.

Detention camp officials have called the hunger strikes an attempt by the prisoners to gain media attention, to protest their indefinite detention and to put pressure on the United States to release them.

Their lawyers say it is a sign of despair.

Only 10 of the prisoners held at Guantanamo as enemy combatants have been charged with crimes, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June whether those war crimes trials are constitutional.

Military officials said 287 Guantanamo prisoners have been freed or transferred to other governments, and negotiations are going on to return more than 100 others to their homelands for continued detention.