A total of 25 Guantánamo prisoners have quit their hunger strike during Ramadan, according to the U.S. military, which reported on Sunday that Navy medical staff still considered 45 captives sufficiently malnourished to require night-time forced-feedings.
Prison spokesmen suggested they had broken part of the protest by adopting a new policy: Captives had to abandon their 5-month-old hunger strike to live in communal detention — where they can pray and eat in groups — after months alone in maximum-security lockdown.
“Detainees in communal living must agree to not hunger strike for their health and safety,” Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a deputy prison camps spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.
To test it, the military last week adopted a sliding scale of communal captivity to coincide with Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, when traditional Muslims shun food by day.
Best behaved prisoners currently get just six hours of lockdown a day. Others were getting released from their solitary cells for six or 12 hours, at prayer and meal-time. The military has described the ongoing experiment as involving about 80 captives inside the Pentagon’s once-showcase communal prison, Camp 6.
Hunger strike figures had steadily risen to participation by 106 of the captives, according to the prison’s Navy medical staff. Then on Thursday, the military reported the first two quit the strike. More quit during the weekend.
When the military first acknowledged the hunger strike in March, House’s boss, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said it was longstanding prison camps policy to permit hunger strikers to live communally. They could protest by refusing to eat, he said, so long as they cooperated with the guards, and followed orders to get shackled and taken to forced-feedings.
Under the new system, described by House, being a hunger striker is a reason for disciplinary lockdown.
Military medical forces consider meals missed, weight lost and other health issues to decide which captive should be designated for a forced-feeding. For the procedure, Army guards strap a prisoner into a restraint chair for up to two hours twice daily and Navy medical forces snake a tube up the nose and down the back of the throat of the immobilized prisoner to deliver a nutritional supplement to the prisoner’s stomach.
A total of 45 prisoners have been designated for these force-feedings since July 2.
But Durand has said that some of the men have chosen to chug the can of Ensure rather than get the forced feeding “enterally,” as the military calls the tube feedings.
Durand described a Ramadan break-fast meal of lamb and rice as an apparent turning point at the prison.
Now, medical and guard staff are monitoring consumption.
“Removal from hunger striker status requires, among other criteria, the sustained eating of solid food and caloric intake over several days,” said House in a prepared statement.
“Additionally, when an enteral fed detainee chooses to end a hunger strike, doctors monitor the re-introduction of regular meals at a controlled pace, to avoid ‘refeeding syndrome,’ which can happen when undernourished people suddenly consume food.”
The Pentagon holds 166 prisoners at Guantánamo in five separate prison facilities, plus the detention center hospital and psychiatric ward. A staff of 2,000 federal employees work there -- including Army guards, Navy medics, contract cooks and intelligence analysts.
It was not immediately possible to get an independent assessment of the hunger strike situation. Attorneys for the prisoners have typically not visited their captive clients during Ramadan, and the International Committee of the Red Cross does not reveal what it learns at the prison.
“Until we start speaking with our clients,” said lawyer David Remes, “we can’t know what’s happening on the ground.”
He noted, however, that the forced-feeding figure remained unchanged.