U.S.

US military to stop updates on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay

With only 19 detainees on strike, attorneys say detainees have "suspended" strikes for varied reasons

Protesters outside of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. in July.
Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

U.S. military officials announced Monday that they will stop issuing daily hunger strike updates from Guantanamo Bay because the number of protesting inmates has steadily dropped, from more than 100 in July to 19 in September.

For months, the U.S. military has issued reports each day listing the number of hunger strikers at the prison on the U.S. base in Cuba. But Monday's statement from Joint Task Force Guantanamo said the number of hunger strikers has significantly diminished to 19 inmates out of a current prisoner population of 164, and that the total has remained the same for almost two weeks.

"We believe today's numbers represent those who wish to continue to strike," the military's statement said.

Pardiss Kebriari, senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Al Jazeera that the strikers who "suspended" their strikes did so for a variety of reasons. "For some," she said, "they feel their protest was heard to some extent, and they've been heartened by the international response."

She said for other prisoners, however, the camp administration's brutal pressure tactics during the strike played a role. The U.S. military "made being taken out of solitary confinement contingent on men ending their strike," she said. 

Eighteen of the remaining strikers are on the "enteral feed list," meaning they can be strapped down and fed a liquid nutrient mix through a nasal tube. According to the military's latest tally, no hunger striking inmates are being observed at a base hospital.

Kebriari told Al Jazeera that force-feedings continue including for the purpose of forcing men to receive medical treatment. The U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in May referred to the force-feedings as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

Although a small group of prisoners have been on long-term hunger strike since 2007, the number of striking inmates spiked in February in response to what lawyers said was mishandling of Qurans by guards. By April, more than half of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay had joined the strike to draw attention to their indefinite detention and treatment.

The hunger strike this year prompted President Barack Obama to criticize the force-feedings. Obama has blamed Congress for hindering his efforts to shut down the prison but lawyers, activists and some government officials have long maintained that he has the authority to do more.

David Remes, a human rights attorney who represents the hunger strikers, told Al Jazeera that the strike achieved its goals because it put Guantanamo "back on the map."

"(It) made President Obama renew his efforts to close the prison," he said. "The men finally see movement. There's a new sense of hope."

"Whether that hope is justified," added Remes, "remains to be seen."

Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. Amel Ahmed contributed to this report. 

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