WASHINGTON – More than half of the 166 detainees held at the US-run Guantanamo military prison have joined a rapidly growing hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention, an official said Sunday.
There are 84 inmates who are refusing food, including 16 on feeding tubes, five of whom are hospitalized, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House said in a statement, adding that none had “life-threatening conditions.”
House said that as recently as Friday there were 63 inmates who were refusing to eat. On Tuesday of last week just 45 were taking part.
The hunger strikers are protesting their incarceration without charge or trial at Guantanamo in the 11 years since the prison went into use for terror suspects detained in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The hunger strikes began February 6, when inmates claimed prison officials searched their Korans for contraband. Officials have denied any mishandling of Islam’s holy book.
An inmate detained at Guantanamo for over a decade without charge gave a graphic account of his participation in the hunger strike in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month entitled “Gitmo Is Killing Me.”
The inmate, a 35-year-old Yemeni named Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel, said he had lost over 30 pounds since going on hunger strike February 10 and that a fellow inmate weighed just 77 pounds.
“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way,” he wrote.
“There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings… They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.”
Like most of the striking inmates, Moqbel has never been charged with a crime or put on trial, and is not viewed as a threat to US national security.
But he cannot be released because of a moratorium on repatriating Yemenis enacted by President Barack Obama in 2009 after a plot to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day was traced back to Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise.