Hunger strike at Guantanamo enters 2nd month

At least 15 inmates hospitalized

13 being force-fed intravenously

September 10, 2005|By Letta Tayler | Letta Tayler,NEWSDAY

Scores or even hundreds of inmates at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay are entering the second month of a hunger strike that has led to the hospitalization of at least 15 prisoners, the Pentagon and defense lawyers said yesterday.

Many detainees and their lawyers believe some who are fasting may starve to death to protest conditions at the military outpost in Cuba. Thirteen inmates are being force-fed intravenously.

"People will definitely die," detainee Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, said in one of several statements from inmates that defense lawyers recently declassified.

"Bobby Sands petitioned the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial," Mohammed continued, in reference to a famous Irish Republican Army inmate who died during a hunger strike in a British prison in 1981. "Nobody should believe for one moment that my brothers here have less courage."

The hunger strike is the fifth among the foreign-born, Muslim inmates at Guantanamo, all but four of whom are being held indefinitely without charges as part of the U.S. war on terror. The protest is likely to fuel further controversy over the base, which has been accused of denying inmates due process and subjecting them to abuse.

The Pentagon denied any wrongdoing and said in a statement that it is "constantly looking for ways to improve conditions" for detainees.

"The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo," said Navy Lt. Commander Alvin Pexico, a Pentagon spokesman. He described the base's legal procedures for detainees - which defense lawyers are barred from attending - as "appropriate."

According to base spokesman Sgt. Justin Behrens, 89 of Guantanamo's 505 inmates are on the current fast, which began Aug. 8. Behrens said 15 inmates were hospitalized and are in stable condition. The Pentagon defines a hunger strike as missing nine meals over 72 hours.

Defense attorneys said more than 200 inmates are fasting but some are accepting small amounts of liquid or occasional meals to prolong the strike.

Prisoners are demanding trials in U.S. courts, as well as such improvements as better food, bottled drinking water, more reading materials and greater religious freedoms.

"It's a dire situation because the military is refusing reasonable negotiation," said Clive Stafford Smith, a British attorney representing several detainees. "It is incredible that the U.S. government is denying these inmates fair trials even if the alternative is that they could die of starvation."

Smith said the military refused to let him see one fasting client and threatened to arrest him for allegedly being a hunger-strike ringleader - charges he denies - when he was visiting Guantanamo in mid-August.

More than 200 prisoners participated in a hunger strike in June and July, and about 50 had to be fed intravenously, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil rights group. Behrens said that 68 inmates participated.

In declassified statements, detainees said they had halted the previous fast after Guantanamo officials promised improved conditions. They said they resumed the hunger strike after some improvements didn't materialize and more inmates were beaten or subjected to psychological abuse. Guantanamo officials denied those allegations but refused to explain what they had promised or provided.

The detainees' statements paint a scene of gruesome desperation during the previous hunger strike, with prisoners vomiting blood or collapsing.

"Many more people have fallen unconscious. ... More are taken to hospital," wrote detainee Omar Deghayes, a Libyan-born British resident, adding that he felt "like dead" from fasting. "I think things are getting worse and it will go out of control," he added.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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