KINGSTON, Jamaica — U.S. military officials at the Guantanamo Bay prison announced Monday that they will stop releasing daily hunger strike updates because they say the number of protesters has steadily dropped to a core group of 19 defiant prisoners.
For months, the U.S. military has issued reports each day listing the number of hunger strikers during one of the most sustained protests at the prison on the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The prison opened in January 2002 to hold “enemy combatants” in the early days of the war in Afghanistan.
Monday’s statement from a Joint Task Force Guantanamo official said the number of hunger strikers has significantly diminished since a peak in early July, when 106 inmates had joined the strike out of a then total prison population of 166. There are now 19 inmates tracked as hunger strikers among the current 164 detainees, the U.S. military said. “We believe today’s numbers represent those who wish to continue to strike,” said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a Guantanamo spokesman.
The number of striking inmates began to climb in February. By April, more than half of the prisoners at Guantanamo had joined the protest to draw attention to their detention.
Hunger strikes have been a fixture at Guantanamo since shortly after it opened. One in the summer of 2005 reached a peak of around 131 detainees, when the facility held roughly 500 men. That protest led the military to adopt a policy of strapping prisoners down to be force-fed a liquid nutrient mix to prevent starvation.
The sustained hunger strike this year prompted President Obama to criticize the force-feedings and renew his efforts to close the U.S. prison. Amid global pressure, Obama had vowed to close the prison, but Congress enacted legislation that prohibited the transfer of prisoners to the United States and made it harder to send them abroad.