A hunger strike among detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who have been imprisoned by the U.S. military without trial — some for more than a decade — is continuing to grow, although there is disagreement between the military and lawyers for the detainees about how many are participating.
As of Monday morning, 28 of the 166 prisoners had refused enough continuous meals to be deemed hunger strikers in the official count, and 10 of them were being force fed, said a military spokesman, Capt. Robert Durand. That was up from 26 hunger strikers and eight being force fed Friday, by the military’s count.
Lawyers for detainees, however, citing declassified notes of conversations with their clients in person and by phone, claim the military’s numbers are significantly undercounting the actual level of participation. Their clients have told them that an overwhelming majority of the detainees in Camps Five and Six — where low-level suspects who are not facing any charges before a military commission, the bulk of the inmate population, are being held — have been refusing to eat for weeks, they said.
Lawyers for detainees say their clients are citing a systematic cell search by guards in early February that included an inspection of Qurans for contraband. Some lawyers have said their clients reported that guards touched the Qurans, which they consider religious desecration.
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The military says those claims are false and that a Muslim interpreter leafed through the books while guards watched, following longstanding procedure.
Lawyers for detainees and military officials agree that waning hopes for any release among low-level prisoners are an underlying cause of the unrest. Congress has restricted further transfers, nearly halting any departures even though about half of the remaining inmates were cleared for release years ago. Most of the low-level detainees are Yemenis.