(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: david drexler, Paul Keller)

Guantanamo prisoners engaged in a hunger strike that has been ongoing for over a month are losing considerable weight, according to attorneys for the prisoners. The Pentagon also continues to report a number of hunger strikers that does not match reports from attorneys, who have said there are many more prisoners on strike.

The Associated Press reports:

Attorney Carlos Warner met with a prisoner from Kuwait this week and says the man appears to have lost 25 pounds. He said 35-year-old Faez al-Kandari was pale and could barely stand. Several other attorneys have reported similar accounts after meeting or speaking with prisoners in recent days.

A prison spokesman says military doctors are closely monitoring the men’s weight and health. Navy Capt. Robert Durand also says the strike has grown to 26 prisoners, up by five since Monday.

There are around 130 men housed in Camp Six where the hunger strike is taking place. Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on March 14, “We understand that most of the men in Camp 6, which holds the largest number of detainees at Guantánamo, have been on hunger strike since February 6.” By treating the term “hunger strike” as a term of art, the Pentagon is deliberately misrepresenting the number of prisoners on strike.

Marine General John Kelly, who heads US Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee  prisoners on strike “had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated when the president backed off.” They apparently learned ”President Obama did not restate the goal of closing Guantanamo in his second inaugural address or in this year’s State of the Union speech.” CBS News also suggests the prisoners have been aware the State Department closed an office that was in charge of resettling prisoners. This has “caused them to become frustrated, and they want to turn the heat up.”

These statement completely omit the fact that lawyers for the prisoners have been reporting their clients have been abused by the new guard force.

From the CCR:

We understand that the hunger strike was precipitated by widespread searches of detainees Qurans—perceived as religious desecration—as well as  searches and confiscation of other personal items, including family letters and photographs, and legal mail, seemingly without provocation or cause. We also understand that these searches occurred against a background of increasingly regressive practices at the prison taking place in recent months, which our clients have described as a return to an older regime at Guantánamo that was widely identified with the mistreatment of detainees. Indeed, the conditions being reported by the men appear to be a significant departure from the way in which the prison has operated over the past several years


According to Guantanamo attorney Candace Gorman, they have put forth two simple demands weeks ago:

 1. The right to voluntarily surrender the Quran under these conditions- the men would rather surrender their Quran’s than to be a party to the desecration by keeping it. (That will end the strike immediately);
2. Provide the Quran on an Ereader (this would ensure there are no notes being passed in the Quran and will allow the men to have the Quran without fear of it being desecrated).

Now, a number of these hunger strikers are being force-fed. The military publicly acknowledges eight are being force-fed “a nutritional supplement through a hose snaked into their nose while they are restrained in a chair.” But, given the fact that they aren’t representing the actual number of prisoners on strike, there is reason to be skeptical that only eight are being force-fed.

Further increasing tension is the fact that commercial flights that attorneys have taken regularly from south Florida have now been canceled. As Carol Rosenberg reported,  the Pentagon has decided to invoke a regulation that has typically been waived.

A CNN report shows lawyers think the canceled flights are part of controlling the flow of information about the hunger strike:

David Remes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 15 clients held at the detention facility, said authorities “are canceling these flights because they want to keep the public in the dark about the mayhem in the prison.”

“For the past several months, bad news has been streaming out of the camps,” Remes said. “The authorities are taking one hit after another for the way they’re running the camps, so they’re doing what comes naturally – choking off the flow of information.”

Ramzi Kassem told Rosenberg, “Of late, the Defense Department has been trying to restrict lawyers’ access to imprisoned clients who do not have pending cases, it has been violating the attorney-client privilege, and now it is eliminating the only non-military route to Guantánamo.” He added, “Having no other options doesn’t just harm the prisoners and their lawyers. It also hurts workers, service members and their loved ones.”

Finally, as this has all been playing out, it was reported that US Southern Command would like to build a new prison for “special” detainees:

The United States Southern Command has requested $49 million to build a new prison building at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for “special” detainees on top of other renovations it says are necessary since Congress has decided to keep it open indefinitely. That brings the potential taxpayer bill for upgrading the deteriorating facilities to an estimated $195.7 million, the military said on Thursday.

That overall price tag is significantly higher than the estimate of $150 million to $170 million that General John F. Kelly, the Southcom commander, gave in Congressional testimony on Wednesday. The special detainee facility was not included on the list of requested construction projects released by Southcom on Wednesday when reporters asked for details. [emphasis added]

ForeignPolicy.com has reactions from human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First, condemning plans to build a new prison. Co-founder of Code Pink, Medea Benjamin, reacted, “This is just absurd…Here’s the president — who campaigned on closing Guantánamo Bay — extending and renovating it. What he needs to do is renovate his current policy and release the people who’ve been cleared for release, shut down the prison, and bring the rest of the prisoners to the United States for trial.”

More and more prisoners do realize that the only way out of Guantanamo is death because Obama is not closing the prison. Prisoners, who have been there for a decade or more, are well aware that, when they have won improvements to conditions at the prison or forced the guards to show them a minimal level of respect, it has been a result of putting their bodies on the line.

Some of these prisoners could be imprisoned for the rest of their lives. They may never return home or see their families again. The least guards could do is not violate prisoners’ Qurans.