A prolonged hunger strike by more than 100 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appeared to be coming to an end Friday after military officials reported that almost all had started eating again.
The military said in a statement that 99 of the 102 inmates listed as being on hunger strike had eaten a hot meal in the previous 24 hours.
Lt. Col. Samuel House, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said he did not know what prompted the change. He added that they were not officially considered to have ended their protest because the military requires a minimum caloric intake over several days.
“I cannot speculate on what their intent is,” he said. “In my mind, it is not over.”
The hunger strike, which began in February, has grown into a protest at what the prisoners see as President Obama’s abandonment of his policy to close the military detention center.
In May, Obama gave a major speech in which he pledged to renew efforts to begin transferring out some of the 166 detainees held at Guantanamo and ultimately close the facility.
During the past week, in a sign that the strike may be winding down, rather than simply pausing, the number of inmates living in communal quarters had significantly increased “from 40 up to 100,” House said. Camp authorities have made it a condition of living in such areas that detainees do not go on hunger strike.
“If an individual detainee chooses to hunger-strike, for their own safety they are moved back into single cell,” House said.
Although many have eaten a meal in the past 24 hours, 45 prisoners remain on a list of those who were being force-fed. Those detainees are strapped to a chair twice a day and fed a liquid nutritional supplement through a nasal tube that leads to their stomach.
Earlier this month, a federal judge condemned the practice of force-feeding as a “painful, humiliating and degrading process” but ruled that she did not have the authority to end it.
Lawyers for some of the inmates were skeptical that the protest was ending, arguing that it was possible for detainees to take on some nutrients without terminating their strike.
Wells Dixon, an attorney for Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian detainee who has been on hunger strike since 2008, said he would be surprised if his client had decided to end his protest.
“Eating an occasional meal doesn’t mean that you are not on a hunger strike,” he said.
Dixon said the government had been “manipulating the numbers from the beginning” and said he would remain “very skeptical” until Ameziane told him that he was no longer participating in the strike.
He said his client had been cleared for release since 2008, adding: “The hunger strike in his case is driven by complete and utter desperation. This is not a political stunt.”
Jon Eisenberg, who represents another detainee, reiterated Dixon’s argument. “One meal does not mean the end of the hunger strike or the end of force-feeding,” he said.