The number of hunger strikers being force-fed by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has risen to 41, with the protest showing no signs of abating more than a week after President Obama renewed his commitment to close the detention facility.
The military said in a statement Thursday that 103 detainees are on hunger strike and that 41 of them are being force-fed. The military also said four detainees who are being force-fed are being observed at the hospital.
None of the hunger strikers has a life-threatening condition, said Lt. Col. Samuel House, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
In a major national security speech May 23, Obama promised to restart the repatriation process for about 86 detainees at Guantanamo Bay who were cleared for transfer by an interagency task force. Transfers had been stalled for more than a year because of restrictions imposed by Congress and the unwillingness of the administration to exercise waivers by certifying that transfers are in the interest of national security.
There are 166 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a majority of whom are Yemeni nationals. Two years ago, Obama imposed his own moratorium on sending detainees to Yemen because of concerns about security there. But he said he will lift the ban.
Obama also said he will appoint senior envoys at the State and Defense departments to oversee and accelerate the process of moving detainees.
There has been no visible progress on these commitments, but administration officials have cautioned that it will take time to restart the effort to close the facility.
In the wake of Obama’s speech, some Republicans on Capitol Hill signaled that they will attempt to block the closure.
The hunger strike began in early February and grew steadily, as more and more detainees joined the protest. The initial catalyst was a decision by the guard force at Guantanamo Bay to search detainees’ Korans. The military said that detainees have used Korans to hide contraband, and that the searches were conducted by Muslim cultural advisers, not ordinary guards. The prisoners objected and said the searches amounted to desecration.
The hunger strike quickly became a wider protest about what the detainees considered the president’s abandonment of his policy to close the facility. Both the military and civilian attorneys for the detainees, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, said despair is widespread among the detainees because of their indefinite detention.
The Red Cross and the American Medical Association have expressed concern about the force-feeding of prisoners, saying detainees have a right to fast, even to death, if they are of clear mind. The military insists that it will do everything it can to preserve the lives of the hunger strikers.
Detainees who are force-fed are strapped to a chair twice a day and fed a liquid nutritional supplement through a tube that runs through the nose and into the stomach.