Southcom to send more medics to Guantánamo

The number of hunger strikers at Guantánamo held at just over half the camp’s prisoners Tuesday as the Southern Command said it was sending additional medical forces to help out the 100-member Navy staff carrying out forced feedings.

The Southern Command asked the Pentagon for nearly 40 additional military medical staffers over a month ago, while it planned for the April 13 raid at Guantánamo that put dozens of rule-breaking prisoners under lockdown, Army Col. Greg Julian said Tuesday morning. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the order, and individual medical forces are being trained for the assignment for arrival by the end of May, he said.

Julian identified the reinforcements as a mixture of reservists and active-duty military health providers who were being drawn from all four services, none currently serving overseas. But at Guantánamo, acting prison spokesman Lt. Col. Samuel House said he was told to expect an all-Navy medical staff of doctors, nurses, corpsmen and psychological technicians “in the next few weeks.”

Medical staff, who wear sailors’ battle dress and have taken on the pseudonyms of Shakespearean characters, are distinct in the camps from the Army troops that guard the captives and wear serial numbers in place of their names on their uniforms.

Confirmation of the coming expansion to the 1,700 or so staff members working at the prison of 166 captives came on the same day that House said another captive was now considered too malnourished or too sick to go without supplemental feedings.

Medical military staff listed 84 captives as hunger strikers, he said, the same count as the day before.

But the number of captives receiving liquid nutritional supplements through tubes was 17 on Tuesday, up from 16 on Monday.

The hunger strike figure has nearly doubled since the April 13 operation that put nearly every captive under lockdown. Julian said from Southcom’s Miami-Dade headquarters that commanders were attributing the rise to examinations of captives who had turned noncooperative in communal lockups, as well because of the current lockdown.

“People are angry and now willing to join,” Julian said. Also, however, the military medical staff was able to “identify people who they didn’t have a good visibility on” before the lockdown.

Lawyers for the detainees have long argued that participation in the hunger strike was higher, with captives reporting to their attorneys estimates of 130 hunger strikers with the only exceptions being the weak, ill and former CIA captives confined to a separate camp.

An attorney who saw a one-named Afghan hunger striker, Obaidullah, on Monday said he was struck by how “really, really thin” the 30-something captive had become. Obaidullah’s handshake was delivered by “a bag of bones,” said Marine Maj. Derek Poteet, who quoted the captive as saying that 10 to 12 detainees a day were seeing doctors at the former communal Camp 6, or about one-sixth of the population under lockdown in that one prison building.

Obaidullah described a form of collective punishment being meted out to all the Camp 6 captives, Poteet said, with those who resisted the April 13 operation getting the same few basic issue items in their cells as those who went peacefully. The Afghan said since his lockdown in an empty cell he had never received soap or a toothbrush — a claim Julian flatly disputed as “nonsense.”

“We anticipate more claims of mistreatment since we have transitioned to single-cell procedures,” Julian said by email. “But at no time is a detainee deprived of the basic elements of humane treatment: food, water, religious articles, hygiene items, medical treatment, or physical recreation opportunities.”

Obaidullah claimed through his lawyer that he was in the outdoor recreation yard before dawn at the time of the raid, doing his ritual washing, or ablutions, when the guards came inside firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Julian said everybody in the camp was put under lockdown after the military found that the prisoners in the communal camp were disobeying the rules by disabling or covering up cameras that monitored activity in their individual cells.

The military refuses to release the names of the men on hunger strike.

But the Justice Department has notified attorneys of those being tube fed. They include two Yemenis in their 30s: Samir Mukbel, whose attorney helped him tell his story last week in a column published in The New York Times, and Yasin Ismael, whose lawyer David Remes said he was notified Tuesday that has client was among those being force fed last week. Also, attorney Carlos Warner said Tuesday evening that his Kuwait client, Fayez al Kandari, 35, was receiving forced feedings.

Related stories from Miami Herald