Eighty-four of the 166 detainees held at the U.S.-run military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have joined a rapidly growing hunger strike to protest against their indefinite detention and maltreatment by their captors, an official said Sunday.
Sixteen of the 84 men on hunger strike are being force-fed, five of them are hospitalized, Guantánamo official Lt. Col. Samuel House confirmed, adding that none had “life-threatening conditions.” He said that as recently as Friday there were 63 inmates who were refusing to eat. On Tuesday last week, just 45 were taking part.
The hunger strikers are protesting against their incarceration—without charge or trial—at Guantánamo. It has been 11 years since the prison went into use for terror suspects detained in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the 9/11 attacks. The hunger strikes began on Feb. 6, when inmates said prison officials searched their Qurans for contraband. (Officials have denied any mishandling of Islam’s holy book.)
An inmate detained at Guantánamo for over a decade without charge gave a graphic account of his participation in the hunger strike in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month entitled “Gitmo Is Killing Me.” The inmate, a 35-year-old Yemeni named Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel, said he had lost over 30 pounds since going on hunger strike on Feb. 10, and that a fellow inmate weighed just 77 pounds.
“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way,” he wrote. “There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings… They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.”
Like most of the striking inmates, Moqbel has never been charged with a crime or put on trial, and is not viewed as a threat to U.S. national security. But he cannot be released because of a moratorium on repatriating Yemenis enacted by President Barack Obama in 2009 after a plot to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day was traced back to Al Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise.
Problems are piling up at Guantánamo. On April 13, guards fired nonlethal rounds to halt unrest as they relocated inmates into individual cells, U.S. military officials said. Officials met with resistance from some detainees as they moved inmates from communal housing to individual cells. No detainees were seriously injured, according to the officials.
Five days after the firing of nonlethal rounds at the inmates, the Taliban pledged to take revenge on U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the maltreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo. Said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid: “The mujahideen of the Islamic emirate… vow to avenge these wronged prisoners by targeting the American invaders in Afghanistan with all might at their disposal, Allah willing.” Mujahid also called on rights groups to condemn “such cowardly actions of America and take a firm stance against it based upon evident humane principles.”