Guantanamo Hunger Strike Grows, US Sends More Medics

The US is sending additional medical personnel to Guantanamo Bay prison camp as more captives join in on the hunger strike.

The strike, meant to protest the prisoners’ open-ended detention at the military prison, has grown to more than half the population.

Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House, a spokesman for the detention operation at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, stated that reinforcements numbering less than 40 are expected to arrive by the end of April.

The military has counted 84 of the prison’s 166 inmates as participating in the hunger strikes. They have started force-feeding 16 inmates liquid meals through tubes inserted in their noses and down their stomachs. House added that six of the hunger-striking inmates are in the hospital for observation.

Hunger strikes are not new for Guantanamo. They began shortly after the United States began detaining suspected al Qaeda and Taliban-connected individuals there in January 2002.

The current strike began in early February when guards took photos and other belongings from the prisoners during a cell search. The prisoners also alleged that the military mistreated their Korans during the search. The US military denies the accusations.

House explained that new arrivals at Guantanamo this month will include a doctor, nurses, corpsmen, and medics. They will work together with the 100 military personnel already on duty at the detention facility.

While the cell search was the immediate trigger for the Guantanamo hunger strike, military officials and lawyers have added that the protest also reflects the prisoners’ frustration at the failure to resolve their fate. Most of the inmates have been held at Guantanamo for over a decade without charges or a trial.

Congress has also blocked President Obama’s attempts to close the camp. Carlos Warner, a federal public defender from Ohio who is part of a team representing 11 inmates, explained, “It’s escalated because the men are desperate and they’ve hit a breaking point. Really what is behind all this is the president abandoned his promise to close Guantanamo. The men know that, they’re desperate.”

When guards swept through a communal prison on April13, forcing the detainees into one-man cells, 43 prisoners were involved in the hunger strike. Since then, the number refusing meals has grown steadily. Two prisoners have also tried killing themselves by fashioning nooses from their clothes.

Lawyers for the prisoners allege that the Guantanamo hunger strike is even more widespread than the military has acknowledged. They believe between 100 and 130 detainees are taking part in the incident. More than half of the prison camp’s prisoners have been cleared for release from Guantanamo. However, Congress has put tough restrictions on transfers.

Roughly two-thirds of the men scheduled for release are from Yemen. But the Obama administration has stopped repatriations to their homeland because of the current instability in the country. The Navy corpsmen and Army medics being sent to Guantanamo for the hunger strike are trained to provide emergency care and basic medical services.

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