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84 Guantanamo detainees on hunger strike
Boston Globe
46 Guantanamo detainees join hunger strike
By Charlie Savage
December 30, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The US military said yesterday that a long-running hunger strike among detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison underwent a "very significant increase" starting on Christmas Day, more than doubling the number of prisoners who are protesting their indefinite detention without trial by refusing to eat.

A bloc of 46 prisoners began refusing meals on Dec. 25, the military said, bringing the total number of participants in the hunger strike to 84.

A spokesman at the base said yesterday that 32 of the longer-term strikers have been hospitalized and are being force-fed through nasal tubes and the rest are under close medical observation.

"The numbers had more or less stayed at the same levels -- in the mid to high 30s -- for several weeks," said Army Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Martin, a spokesman for the prison. "Then we had this very significant increase in the number of hunger strikers all of a sudden."

The abrupt surge renewed attention to a simmering protest among a portion of the roughly 500 prisoners the military is holding at its Navy base in Cuba.

Most of the prisoners were arrested in Afghanistan or Pakistan on suspicion of being supporters of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and they have been held for four years without trials.

Attorneys for the prisoners reported over the summer that between 100 and 200 detainees had launched a hunger strike in July to protest their continued detention without trial and their living conditions.

Officials persuaded the detainees to start eating again at the end of that month after promising to upgrade their conditions, such as providing more bottled drinking water.

But the hunger strike resumed on Aug. 8, amid new tensions over rumors that a guard had manhandled a prisoner.

Attorneys who visited the detainees have said their clients are willing to die if they do not receive an independent hearing to determine whether they are terrorists. Military policy is to force-feed people on hunger strikes.

Since August, Martin said in a telephone interview, the number of detainees refusing meals has fluctuated between 131 at its peak and around two dozen. A detainee must refuse nine consecutive meals for the military to consider him as being on a hunger strike.

Martin said he did not know what might have triggered the 46 prisoners to join the hunger strike on Dec. 25.

In its statement, the military said that refusing meals "is consistent with Al Qaeda training and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention and bring pressure on the United States government to release them."

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a volunteer attorney who represents several Bahraini detainees who were arrested in Pakistan, said he had no information about the Christmas Day protest.

In general, he said, the detainees use the tactic out of desperation.

"At this point, none of this surprises me, considering the conditions that people are held under and the indefinite nature of their detention," he said. "If at a particular time, more detainees choose to protest in what they see as the only effective manner, that seems consistent with a general sense of despair and frustration and hopelessness."

Just before the latest strike, Congress approved a defense appropriations bill with a provision that will curtail the Guantanamo Bay detainees' ability to challenge their imprisonment and their prison conditions in federal court.

About 160 detainees have sued the government since the Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that the Guantanamo prison is under the jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Lawyers for the detainees say they expect the White House to ask the courts to throw out the lawsuits based on the new rules Congress approved, setting up a new series of court battles.

Although the courts have not ordered the military to release any detainees, federal judges have held several hearings on detainee treatment that provided some oversight to the prison.

In October, lawyers for detainees told a judge that medics tried to persuade those on a hunger strike to start eating on their own by force-feeding them with unusually large feeding tubes inserted through their noses -- without painkillers.

In addition, another federal judge ruled earlier this month that it was illegal for the Bush administration to continue imprisoning several Chinese Muslims at the base, although the judge also said he was powerless to order the military to let the men go.

A military tribunal had determined nine months earlier that the Chinese Muslims were not enemy combatants and should be released.

But because China has a history of persecuting Muslims, US law forbids the military from repatriating them, and no other country has been willing to take the men in.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

Commentary:
The Courts don't have the POWER to force the Executive Branch to follow its rulings? What makes the US different than a dictatorship. The Court has all the power it needs. Now all we need are good liberal judges who will enforce the law.