At least four of the captives being force-fed at Guantánamo were cleared for release years ago.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. prison in southeast Cuba classified 100 of its 166 captives as hunger strikers, according to Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a prison spokesman. Navy medical workers were administering tube feedings to 23 of the hunger strikers, four of them at the prison hospital.
Prison officials have refused to name any of the hunger strikers. But the Justice Department has been notifying the attorneys of prisoners who have become so malnourished that they require the tube feedings.
Attorneys for nine of the men notified The Miami Herald of their identities.
One is Mohammed al-Hamiri, a Yemeni man in his 30s whose New York lawyer, Omar Farah, says he was told by the Justice Department that his client is “on hunger strike and is being force fed.” Hamiri is also one of 55 men that the Justice Department has named, separately, in federal court filings as eligible for release.
In 2009, the Obama administration assembled a Task Force of representatives from federal agencies, including the CIA, FBI and Pentagon, to examine the files of the detainees brought to Guantánamo during the Bush years.
It concluded that 46 of the 166 men now there should be held indefinitely, without trial or charge.
But it found that 56 were eligible for transfer and another 30 might be eligible for transfer if certain conditions were met. The majority are Yemeni men, like Hamiri, whose transfer has been put on hold by a combination of congressional restrictions on releases and a White House freeze on transfers in particular to Yemen, which has a fervent al-Qaida franchise called Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Others identified by their attorneys as being force-fed include:
• Tariq Ba Awdah, 34, a Yemeni man whose lawyer says he’s been on an uninterrupted hunger strike since February 2007. “I haven’t tasted food for over six years,” he wrote his lawyer, Farah, this week. “The feeding tube has been introduced into my nose and snaked into my stomach thousands and thousands of times.” He has never been charged with a crime at Guantánamo’s war court, and his status is not known.
• Ahmed Bel Bacha, 44, an Algerian man whom the Obama administration disclosed last year has been cleared for release
• Jihad Diyab, 41, a Syrian man whom the Obama administration disclosed last year has been cleared for release.
• Nabil Hadjarab, 33, an Algerian man whom the Obama administration disclosed last year has been cleared for release.
• Yasin Ismael, in his 30s, a Yemeni man who has never been charged with a crime and whose status is not known
• Fayez al Kandari, 35, a Kuwaiti, who at one point was considered for prosecution at the Guantánamo war court.
• Samir Mukbel, a Yemeni is in his 30s whose attorney helped him tell his story recently in a column published in The New York Times. His name is not among those the Obama administration has disclosed as cleared for release, and his status is not known.
• Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, 32, a Yemeni who won his habeas corpus lawsuit on Feb. 24, 2010 but lost after the U.S. government appealed to the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, which overturned the release order on March 29, 2011. His name is not among those the Obama administration has disclosed as cleared for release, and his status is not known.
Hunger strike figures rose steadily after April 13, when soldiers stormed inside Guantánamo’s showcase communal prison and put nearly every captive at the prison camps complex under lockdown.
Before the lockdown, the military counted 43 of the 166 men as hunger strikers.
The military figure has stood at 100 hunger strikers since the weekend.
The British legal association, Reprieve, whose lawyers represent Shaker Aamer, 46, a Saudi-born former British resident, described Aamer as receiving forced feedings in an email to The Herald on Friday.
Sunday, Reprieve deputy director Hilary Stauffer clarified by email from London that attorneys had received no Justice Department notice that Aamer was among those being tube fed. "Anecdotally, we understood that he [has] sometimes been force fed," she wrote. Aamer is among the detainees defined by the Obama administration last year as eligible for release.
The prison camps in Cuba have been wracked by hunger strikes almost from the start. The Pentagon set up the offshore detention center in January 2002. But the most widespread known hunger strike took place in 2005 when, according to House, “we had a detainee population of 575 detainees with 142 detainees choosing to hunger strike in July.”
On average, he said, 30 detainees were “being enteral fed,” the Guantánamo term for the process of snaking a tube up a captive’s nose, down the back of his throat and into his stomach before pumping in a can of nutritional supplement.