More than 100 Guantanamo Bay detainees have launched a hunger strike to protest the desecration of their personal effects, including Qurans, a step the prisoners are reportedly taking to bring attention to the worsening conditions at the U.S. facility in Cuba.
Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer representing Yemeni detainee Ghaleb Al-Bihani, told Agence France-Presse most of the detainees in Camp 6 of the prison are entering the third week of the fast. But the Center for Constitutional Rights states the strike may have started as long as five weeks ago.
Camp 6 houses about 130 of the 155 detainees who are still incarcerated in the U.S. military detention facility. Those men, who typically are not regarded as high-risk, are held in a different part of the prison from higher-profile prisoners, such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Kebriaei, who is based in New York City, says her client has lost more than 20 pounds since beginning the strike, and has been told his health is being seriously threatened because he is a diabetic. Another lawyer, Barry Wingard, told AFP three of his clients are currently abstaining from food, one of whom reportedly lost 26 pounds in three-and-a-half weeks.
Prison officials say reports of the strike are being blown out of proportion. Robert Durand, director of public affairs for the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said at least five of the inmates are being fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs, meaning they are receiving adequate nutrition. Others have apparently been able to somehow keep private food in their cell.
"Refusing delivered food does not make a detainee a hunger striker, not eating does,” Durand said. "Detainees or an entire cell block may refuse to take any of the fresh, hot meals delivered, but we observe them eating from the ample amounts of food they have in the cell block.”
But according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the situation is “rapidly deteriorating” and is reaching a critical level for some of the detainees.
“We have received reports of men coughing blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued," the CCR wrote in a letter to the commander of Guantanamo, Rear Adm. John Smith.
The CCR also says it has receives reports of prison employees mishandling copies of the Quran and displaying “disrespectful” behavior during Islamic prayer times.
The detention camp was opened in 2002 to house prisoners detained during the George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” following the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
There have been multiple hunger strikes held in the facility to protest what some say are inhumane conditions. Only a handful of the detainees who remain at the facility have been formally charged with a crime.
Eighty-seven prisoners were cleared for release in 2009, but are still being held, at a cost of $69 million, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Approximately 92 percent of the 779 prisoners who have been incarcerated since 2002 were never al Qaeda fighters, according to U.S. government records.
Forty-six of the prisoners, deemed “enemy combatants” by the federal government, are slated for indefinite detention. The CCR reports they can neither be released nor prosecuted.
Seven detainees have committed suicide, the youngest of whom was captured at age 16 and died at 21.
Most of the Guantanamo prisoners hail from either Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or Yemen. To see a full list of past and present detainees who have been identified, as well as their nationalities, click here.