Over 100 detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison camp have reportedly gone on hunger strike following the alleged desecration by guards of personal effects including copies of the Koran. According to reports from detainees' attorneys, the strike is into its third week.
Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer representing Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Yemeni detainee, told Agence France-Presse, "My client and other men have reported that most of the detainees in Camp 6 are on strike, except for a small few who are elderly or sick."
Robert Durand, director of public affairs for the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, has however denied claims of a mass hunger strike. He told AFP that although the detainees are refusing to take the meals delivered, they continue to eat food kept in their cell blocks."Refusing delivered food does not make a detainee a hunger striker, not eating does," said Durand, noting that nine detainees were engaged in hunger strikes, five of whom were being fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs.
However, 12 detainees' lawyers are stressing that the strike is more serious and wide spread than Durand claims. Via AFP:
According to Kebriaei, her client -- on hunger strike for 30 days -- has "lost over 20 pounds and has been told by medical personnel that his health is in serious danger as he is also a diabetic."
Another lawyer, Barry Wingard, said one of his three clients, Kuwaiti Fayez Al-Kandari, lost 12 kilos (26 pounds) in three and a half weeks. All three were on hunger strike, he added.
Twelve lawyers -- including Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights -- have sent a letter to the commander of Guantanamo, Rear Admiral John Smith, to denounce "a matter that appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level."
"We have received reports of men coughing blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
Guantanamo officials and the attorneys also give divergent accounts of the cause of inmate discontent. The attorneys' letter notes, "We understand that Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men's Korans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times." However, Duran told AFP that "No JTF-Guantanamo guard touches any detainee's Koran at any time."
"Durand also said the number of hunger strikers was not exceptional and had been higher in the past," AFP reported.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has stated that a debate over the precise scope of the hunger strike misses the point. "Rather than dispute the severity or extent of the hunger-strike, the administration should end the practices that gave rise to the current protest," CCR said in a statement provided to Truthout. "It must also take a hard look at the root cause of our clients' desperation: 11 years of indefinite detention, years of abuse and mistreatment, and broken promise after broken promise by the Obama administration to put an end to this failed experiment."
The Guantanamo camp in question is Camp 6, where approximately 166 man remain incarcerated. High-profile detainees including Khalid Sheikh Mohamed are held in different areas of the complex.