Half of Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike

Half of Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike
Soldiers walk past detainees' cells during early morning prayer at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Camp 5, in Cuba.
MIAMI (AP) - The U.S. military says just over half of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike.

A military spokesman says 84 prisoners have been classified as hunger strikers at the U.S. military base in Cuba. The prison's population is 166.

Army Lt. Col. Samuel House says 16 of the 84 prisoners are being force-fed and five have been hospitalized. He says none of the hospitalized men have life-threatening conditions.

A week after an April 13 clash between guards and prisoners, the hunger strike is steadily growing. On Tuesday, the number of hunger strikers was 45. By Friday, 63 prisoners had joined.

Prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February to protest conditions and their indefinite confinement. The U.S. holds 166 men at the prison, most without charge.

Nearly all prisoners are locked down for most of the day since the April 13 clash with guards. At least two detainees have tried to kill themselves since that confrontation between guards in riot gear and prisoners with broomsticks and metal bars.

A Muslim cultural affairs adviser at the prison blamed the recent troubles, including the expanding hunger strike, on a small group of jihadist "troublemakers" who he says are trying to make sure at least one fellow prisoner commits suicide.

"Are they done? No, they are not done yet. And there will be more than one death," said the Arab-American adviser, who goes by the name "Zak" and has worked at the prison since September 2005.

Seven prisoners have killed themselves over the years at Guantanamo. The most recent, last September, was Adnan Latif, who took an overdose of prescription psychiatric medicine. Though the government had accused him of training with the Taliban in Afghanistan, he was not being prosecuted nor could he be sent back to his native Yemen, which is considered too unstable to control former Guantanamo prisoners.

It is the uncertainty over when, if ever, the men held at Guantanamo will be released that has caused widespread despair and frustration among prisoners, lawyers for the men say. President Barack Obama ordered the detention center closed upon taking office, but Congress thwarted him and made it harder to move prisoners elsewhere. Releases and transfers have since become rare.

"Until such time as our government starts to do the right thing in connection with Guantanamo Bay, the frustration is only going to continue to build, and I can't imagine what the outcome will be," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, a military lawyer visiting clients at the base this week.

Prisoners also complain that their Qurans had been mishandled and their treatment had suddenly worsened. Then they launched what has become the most sustained hunger strike in years at the prison.

The men have charged through their lawyers that guards have kept them from praying and sleeping by being noisy, denied them water, painfully strapped them down to be force-fed. The military denies those allegations specifically and any mistreatment in general.

Army Col. John Bogdan, who is in charge of the guard force, met with detainees and said he couldn't address their main complaint. "They were asking to be released from Gitmo," he said. "I can't do that."