Scores or even hundreds of inmates at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 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 attorneys think some fasters may starve to death to protest conditions at the controversial military outpost. 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 an 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 terrorism.
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. Cmdr. Alvin Pexico, a Pentagon spokesman.
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 lawyers 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 freedom.