Refusing prepared meals and choosing to subsist for a time on snack foods does not constitute a hunger strike, Durand said.
The prisoners lawyers say the trigger for the latest tension was increased, aggressive searches of their Qurans that began with a new rotation of U.S. Army soldiers who took over from a Navy guard force. In their letter to Hagel, the lawyers said the searches are perceived by the Muslim prisoners as religious desecration of a nature that was not typical of their decade-plus detention.
At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman, said Hagels office was aware of the letter from the 51 attorneys, who represent about half the 166 captives. However, it is the longstanding policy of the department to not respond to attorney communications in the press. If the department responds, it will happen through counsel.
At Guantánamo, Durand said the Quran search policy is unchanged. Guards search cells, Durand said. Muslim linguists search the Qurans, respectfully.
Obaydullahs Army lawyer, Wright, said of his client: Hes a very gentle soul, too, and he could not understand why this was good for American foreign policy to disrespect the Quran.
Durand defended searches of both types as necessary to security. Contraband items found during these routine searches often include improvised weapons, communication devices, unauthorized food and medicine and other items which detainees could utilize to harm themselves or others, he said.
The Reuters news agency reported this week that a photographer who was in a cellblock took pictures of protest signs, including one that proclaimed: We demand to hand over a Holy Koran because of your insulting. The military deleted a photo of the sign, Reuters reported.
Durand confirmed the effort to turn in the Qurans but said it presented the prison with a dilemma.
Detainees attempting to turn in their Qurans are attempting to manipulate the situation by creating a false choice, he said. If we accept their Quran, it would be portrayed as either an admission that it required protection and safekeeping, or as a confiscation by the guard force, depriving them of the religious articles needed to practice their faith.
At the Center for Constitutional Rights, attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said Friday that 10 or more attorneys had seen or spoken by phone with captives who reported the strike.
Over two weeks weve heard the same thing from every single attorney who has been down to the base and sat across from a client and seen the physical weight loss or the shivering from losing body fat, she said. Whether it is 10 or 100 or more is not the point. There are some men who have been on hunger strike for weeks. Its extremely frustrating and its extremely dangerous.