The military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, clashed with protesting detainees Saturday as the guard force at the base ended communal living conditions at one of the facility’s camps and forced detainees back into single-man cells.
A spokesman for the military said the effort to reestablish control at Camp 6 where detainees have covered cameras and windows to prevent observation by guards was prompted by fears that the risk to the health and the security of the detainees “had reached an unacceptable level.”
“Detainees may continue to hunger strike,” but medical staff will now be able to properly monitor their conditions, said the spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand of Joint Task Force Guantanamo. He also said that Saturday’s action was taken “to ensure that detainees are not being coerced by other detainees to participate in the hunger strike.”
An official in Washington, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said that the military authorities at the base hope that by isolating detainees they can break the hunger strike by significantly reducing the numbers protesting. The official noted that there are always small numbers of detainees on hunger strike at the base.
Durand said in a statement that some detainees “resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired.”
When the guard force entered the communal areas, some detainees used “batons created in advance” as well as broomsticks and mop handles to try to resist the forced return to single-man cells, according to Durand.
He said the operation took several hours and that some guards and detainees were receiving medical care, but he didn’t specify the nature of the injuries.
“If and when the detainees demonstrate a willingness to comply with safety rules, the privilege of communal living may be reinstated,” Durand said.
The hunger strike began in early February after detainees said the guard force initiated new and aggressive sweeps of the cells that they alleged included inappropriate searches of the detainees’ Korans. The military acknowledged that Korans were searched for contraband, but said they were handled only by interpreters, most of whom are Muslim, not the guard force.
Lawyers for the detainees, the military and the International Committee for the Red Cross agree that the hunger strike is also born of a deeper frustration that the Obama administration has abandoned any real effort to close the facility.
There are 166 detainees at Guantanamo, and dozens of them were cleared for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay by an interagency review panel. The Obama administration has not yet started another promised review process. And it closed the office in the State Department that was charged with getting the cleared detainees home or resettled in third countries.
The administration has said that Congress has blocked its ability to act, but lawyers and human rights groups say that the administration could still move out some detainees. They charge that the White House is unwilling to fight for its 2009 executive order to close the facility in Cuba.
The Red Cross said in a statement Saturday that it “continues to follow the current tensions and the hunger strike at Guantanamo very closely and with concern.”
Before the hunger strike, up to 120 detainees lived in Camp 6 where cells were kept open and detainees could watch television, eat and use recreation areas together.
Counsel for the detainees and the military have clashed over the scale of the protest. The detainees’ lawyers said almost everyone in Camp 6 and Camp 5, a single-cell facility, were participating. The military said the hunger strike had grown since February and by Friday 43 detainees were consistently refusing food, 11 of whom were being force fed.
A lawyer for a number of detainees decried the military decision to enter Camp 6.
“This is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing,” said Carlos Warner, a public defender in Ohio. “As of last week, the strike would end if they allowed the men to surrender the Koran. Instead the military is escalating the conflict.”
The detainees said they do not want to have Korans if they are searched; the military said it may need to search the Korans but does not want to permanently remove them.