Two Guantánamo captives have quit their hunger strike, the military said Thursday, reporting the first dip in the prison camps protest and a cessation of clashes between guards and prisoners that coincides with the Ramadan holiday.
“It’s quiet,” said the prison camps spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, reporting no detainee threw his bodily fluids at a guard and no soldiers tackled and shackled a captive to force him out of cell for at least 24 hours.
“It may be Ramadan is generous,” he said, invoking Islam’s traditional greeting for the month of prayer and daytime fasting — Ramadan Kareem, Ramadan is generous.
The U.S. military marked the start of the holiday this week by allowing about 75 of Guantánamo’s 166 captives to pray and eat in groups at the communal Camp 6 prison building. All 75 had been under lockdown since mid-April, confined inside individual cells up to 22 hours a day, praying and eating alone.
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Now, about 40 men are being allowed to roam 18 hours of the day inside their cellblock, and are being locked inside individual cells six hour a night. Captives in communal pods have access to televisions, small recreation yards and showers without being taken there shackled at the wrists and the ankles.
Others were being locked inside their cells 12 and 18 hours a day but being allowed to pray and eat together in the evenings when the Ramadan fast comes to an end.
And, said Durand, “they’re eating.” An evening meal this week featured a dinner of lamb and rice and “it was pretty well enjoyed,” he said.
Still, as of Thursday, the military counted 104 captives as hunger strikers, and said 45 were listed for night-time force-feedings, during hours when Ramadan observers eat. Since June 28, the military had reported 106 on hunger strike. Thursday’s figure removed two hunger strikers from the steadily growing list for the first time this year.
The military would not say who ended his hunger strike, or why.
Guantánamo’s medical hunger strike management procedures allow a doctor to no longer consider a captive on a hunger strike if he has voluntarily eaten 1,500 calories a day for seven days. Alternatively, the March 5, 2013 procedures say, the prison’s senior medical officer “may also remove a detainee from the Hunger Strike List based on medical assessment that the caloric intake is sufficient and it is suspected that the detainee’s intent is not to hunger strike.”
Durand also said the forced-feeding figures can be deceptive. Rather than get a tube stuck up his nostril and snaked into his stomach to deliver a nutritional supplement, a detainee can choose at the restraint chair to drink a can of Ensure instead and still be listed as “an enteral feeding,” which is Guantánamo lingo for those being force-fed.
The reported dip also comes a day after Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin asked President Barack Obama to order the military to stop “large-scale force-feedings” and adopt a Bureau of Prisons standard to force-feed when it’s “medically necessary to save a detainee’s life.” Doctors at Guantánamo put a detainee on the forced-feeding list after he’s refused a certain number of meals or weighs 15 percent below optimum.
A Defense Department official said, absent an order from Obama, the forced-feeding policy would not change. Separately, the military said it eased conditions for some after nearly 90 days of lockdown to test the prisoners’ behavior.
In April, troops raided the communal prison and imposed the sweeping lockdown, saying the once-cooperative captives had defied their guards. They systematically refused to allow guards to deliver food inside the communal pods and covered up their surveillance cameras, prompting fears by the U.S. military that some were planning suicide by starvation.
It was not possible to independently confirm the military’s claim that the captives were eating. A Miami Herald reporter was last were allowed to visit the prison in April, within days of the lockdown when the hunger strike and forced-feedings were on the rise.
Detainees have typically not met with their attorneys during Ramadan. Lawyer Carlos Warner said he spoke this week with Yemeni captive Idris Idris, in his 30s, and he was “still hunger striking, being tube fed and suffering.”
Plus, Warner noted, the military itself reported that 45 captives were on its forced-feed list.
“The military’s numbers are not credible and are unreliable,” said Warner, a federal defender in Ohio. But, he said, if the military truly was restoring “amenities” and easing conditions, the numbers could go down. “We still believe approximately 130 men are hunger striking with a majority being tube fed each day.”
Military commanders attributed the widespread hunger strike to a sense of despair at being at Guantánamo years after President Barack Obama pledged to close the Navy base prison. Four years ago, a federal task force approved transfer of 86 of the 166 captives, many home, some with conditions. But Congress blocked those moves. Defense lawyers said the detainees complained that the guards disrespected their Quran and seized personal items during a Feb 6-7 raid on the communal prison.
Since the hunger strike, Durand noted, Obama mentioned the captives twice in public speeches and dispatched a special envoy from the State Department to tour the camps July 2. “They’re not declaring victory and we’re not declaring victory, either,” said Durand, “but we’re just encouraged by the fact that we have good behavior in the camps.”