The number of Guantanamo Bay detainees staging a hunger strike has grown from three to 75, the U.S. military said Monday, reflecting increasing defiance among men who have been held for up to 4 1/2 years, most without charges and with little contact with the outside world.
Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand said the ballooning number of hunger strikers was an “attention-getting” move that may be related to a May 18 clash between 10 detainees and 10 U.S. military guards in which six detainees were injured. The same day, two detainees also overdosed on anti-depressant drugs they had been hoarding. They have since regained consciousness.
“The hunger strike technique is consistent with al-Qaida practice and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention to bring international pressure on the United States to release them back to the battlefield,” Durand said from the base.
Seventy-six detainees began the hunger strike in August to protest their indefinite confinement. A month later the number of hunger strikers grew to 131, according to the military, but dwindled to just three earlier this year.
Defense lawyers said many detainees ended the protest because the military adopted more aggressive measures to force feed them using a special restraint chair. The military called the measures “safe and humane.”
The U.S. military holds about 460 men at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Human rights groups say many innocent people have been swept up in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and sent to the prison at the Cuban base in Guantanamo Bay, with no end in sight to their incarceration. Only 10 of the detainees have been charged with crimes.
Their military trials, the first held by the United States since the World War II era, are set to begin within months. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, is expected to rule in June on whether President Bush overstepped his authority by ordering war-crimes trials for some of those held at Guantanamo Bay.