GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Its lunchtime on the communal cellblocks for cooperative captives, and detainees dressed in tan and white camp uniforms are steadfastly refusing the guards offer to wheel in food carts.
Only if a prisoner pulls shut a gate to a chute called a sally port can a soldier lock it remotely and send in the meals. And one by one, every block but Delta Block refuses. Some captives call out that they dont want the food.
Over at Charlie Block, an angular looking detainee is stubbornly ignoring his guards, sitting at an empty, stainless-steel picnic table, watching footage from Mecca on Saudi TV.
Within an hour, the guards systematically trash a lunch that looks like it could feed 100. Unopened juice bottles go in the garbage first, then Styrofoam boxes of pita bread and special dietary meals. Buffet tins of stewed tomatoes, rice and sweet-and-sour stir-fried beef follow.
Its hunger-strike time at Guantánamo. And while the military and their captives dispute when it started and how widespread it is, it was clear from a three-day visit to the prison-camp compound this past week that the guard force is confronted with its most complex challenge in years.
• By this weekend, the U.S. military had defined 26 of the 166 captives as hunger strikers. Eight were being fed nutritional shakes through a tube snaked through a shackled captives nose to his stomach. Two were hospitalized, getting nutrition through a tube and intravenous hydration as well. Lawyers for the captives quote their clients as counting dozens more as long-term hunger strikers, who are getting weaker by the day.
• Communal captives are no longer cooperating with guards at the once-showcase Camp 6. Theyve covered the cameras inside their cells. Theyve quit going to art classes. Both sides report frequent fainting spells the military calls them Code Yellows although the prison spokesman says theyre fake, staged for visitors.
• More and more men are being moved out of communal confinement to the maximum-security prison, where up to 125 can be kept in 8-by-12-foot cells and where its easier to conduct tube feedings. But the Camp 5 commander, an Army captain who wouldnt give her name, decided it would be too disruptive for a reporter to observe lunch being served there. To watch a guard pass a lunchbox through slits in the cell doors at the disciplinary block, the captain concluded, was too high-risk.
Hunger striker could die
Although its camp policy to prevent a captive from starving himself, the prison staff talks about the possibility that a hunger-striking captive will be found dead one day.
Lawyers for the men say the strike was sparked in early February by an unusually aggressive search of prisoners Qurans that to them amounted to desecration. Prison staff says no Qurans were disrespected, no policy changed.
All sides blame long simmering frustration with President Barack Obamas inability to deliver on his promise to close the facility.
The prisons Arab-American Muslim cultural advisor, a Defense Department employee, says he and the chief guard, Army Col. John Bogdan, have been trying to negotiate with the detainees. But it may be that nothing short of an airplane ticket will end the deadlock.
They are serious, says the advisor, who goes by Zak. They have lost hope.