A third of Guantánamo captives now considered hunger strikers


An Army guard walks the hallway at Camp 5, for maximum security, low value detainees at the U.S. Navy base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An Army guard walks the hallway at Camp 5, for maximum security, low value detainees at the U.S. Navy base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

After weeks of refusing to take back detainees’ Qurans, the U.S. military said Wednesday that it was no longer requiring captives to keep their copies of Islam’s holy book.

 “If they choose not to have one, they choose not to have one,” said Army Col. John Bogdan, who as chief of the Guantánamo guard force responsible for 166 captives functions as a sort of war-on-terror warden.

He made his comments a day before the military said that 59 prisoners were classified as hunger strikers, up from 52 a day earlier. Of them, 15 were being force fed to prevent dangerous weight loss, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the detention center’s spokesman. Four were hospitalized on Thursday.

Some lawyers for hunger-striking detainees had said the protest was sparked in February by what the captives considered a particularly aggressive search of their Qurans,  and that some were demanding to give their books up or continue forgoing food as a form of protest.

 The military denies that anything went wrong in the search but refused the request. A prison camps spokesman said that letting captives turn in their Qurans might be construed by some as an admission that something did go wrong in the  search at Camp 6.

 But that was “in the lead-up to this weekend’s events,” said Bogdan, when troops charged inside communal Camp 6’s cellblocks to put all the captives there under  lockdown.

 Wednesday, the Army captain responsible for the maximum-security Camp 5 described a mixture of both good and bad behavior among the dozens of captives in her 124-cell compound. Just two days earlier, a captive in a recreation yard splattered feces and squirted urine on a guard, said the captain, who instructed reporters to identify her as “O.I.C.,” the military’s acronym for officer in charge. And sometime Friday, a Camp 5 captive attempted to commit suicide by hanging, the prison’s chief medical office said.

 The Camp 5 commander would not say how many captives in that prison had turned in their Qurans but replied enigmatically: “Every detainee who has requested a Quran has one.”

 Her boss, Bogdan, also was unable to say in an interview Wednesday how many of the 166 detainees still kept their Qurans.

 “We don’t track” that figure, he said.

 Earlier camps commanders had described turning in a Quran as a possible warning signal that someone was considering suicide. The spokesman, Durand, had no immediate comment on whether other portions of the 1,700-strong detention center staff that included Navy medical troops and civilian contractors was tracking that number.

 Federal Public Defender Carlos Warner represents a Kuwaiti captive who says he’s lost considerable weight on his hunger strike. Warner was unable to say Wednesday whether some detainees were eating again in light of the new policy of accepting Qurans.

“I have no information that the demand has changed,” Warner said by email from Ohio.

 “As of April 11, the demand was the same. However, since that time the men were attacked and segregated. We have not been allowed to speak to our clients. We hope the military’s change in policy will end the current crisis. We want our clients eating again.”