U.S. military medical providers counted 102 Guantánamo prisoners as hunger strikers on Thursday, the first increase after three weeks when the number seemed to plateau at 100.
Navy medical workers were tube feeding 30 of the hunger strikers, said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House. Three were hospitalized but none had “any life-threatening conditions,” House said.
Military officials refused to say whether the protest had spread to Camp 7, the secret prison building where the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 14 other so-called high-value detainees who were once held in secret CIA facilities have been locked up since 2006. On May 8, defense lawyers for some of the accused 9/11 conspirators filed a motion asking the war court judge to forbid the prison staff from force-feeding their clients.
The motion was under seal Thursday, but Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz said by telephone from Dubai that he had invoked the American Medical Association opposition to force-feeding in the motion he filed on behalf of his client, Saudi Mustafa al Hawsawi, one of the five detainees charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks. The AMA and the International Red Cross oppose force-feeding prisoners who are mentally competent to decide their fate.
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Ruiz said that Hawsawi, who is accused of funneling money to the 9/11 hijackers, “has been hunger striking on and off, refusing food” for months. Ruiz said Hawsawi’s refusal to eat was intended to protest conditions at Camp 7, notably daily searches of his cell, including the seizure of legal documents.
Ruiz said no one at Guantánamo had indicated whether military medical staff counted his client among the hunger strikers.
The Pentagon lawyer for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed similarly said that he did not know if his client as among the 102. “It depends on the definition of a hunger strike,” Army Capt. Jason Wright said. “Mr. Mohammad has been observing a religious fast for quite some time. To date, we have received no notification that he is being force-fed by medical personnel.”
Mohammed, who could face the death penalty if convicted, has at times said he welcomed martyrdom. It is Pentagon policy not to let a captive starve to death at Guantánamo Bay, however.
Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the detention center’s public affairs officer, said he was forbidden from commenting “on operations or detainees in Camp 7, other than to say that detainees there are held in a safe and humane manner.”
The current hunger strike began Feb. 6, according to some prisoners’ lawyers, after Army guards conducted a particularly aggressive search of their Qurans at Camp 6, a medium-security lockup that is miles from Camp 7. Military spokesmen say the protest began about a month later and that the holy books were treated with respect.