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Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike Grows as More Than Half of Prisoners Refuse Food

April 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
At Guantanamo Bay, the number of prisoners protesting their detentions has skyrocketed. Eighty-four of the 166 captives have gone on hunger strike and 16 are being force-fed. Ray Suarez reports on the recent upheaval at Guantanamo and actions by the military to keep detainees from starving to death.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn now to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where a protest by prisoners continues to grow.

Ray Suarez reports.

RAY SUAREZ: More than half the detainees at the Guantanamo prison are now on hunger strike. Government figures disclosed this weekend show 84 of the 166 captives at the facility are now participating. A smaller number began the protest in early February. They objected to their living conditions and to alleged mishandling of the Koran by military guards.

They also cited the legal limbo many have been held in for a decade or more, not charged with crimes or placed on trial. On April 13th, there was a brief, violent confrontation. The military said guards raided a communal area to uncover security cameras and windows that had been shrouded for weeks.

COL. JOHN BOGDAN, COMMANDER, Guantanamo Bay Joint Detention Group: We were trying to be patient and work with them, give them the opportunity to comply. We hit the point where, you know, I felt we were accepting too much risk and it was time to take action.

RAY SUAREZ: The guards say the prisoners attacked them with homemade weapons. There were no reported serious injuries, but the prison was put on lockdown, and the number of hunger strikers skyrocketed; 16 are being force-fed, with tubes inserted through the nose and into the stomach. They are typically shackled in chairs like this for the procedure.

An American Naval medical officer described the process in 2009.

MAN: These are the feeding tubes that we use whenever it is determined at a very high level that somebody has reached that point in the hunger striking. Everyone is allowed to hunger strike; that is their right to protest. But if somebody gets to that point where they need additional medical care or it’s reached the point where it’s threatening their life, that’s where the decision is made way above me to step in.

RAY SUAREZ: Among those being force-fed is Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel of Yemen. In a recent New York Times op-ed transmitted to his lawyers through an interpreter, he wrote: “I’ve been detained at Guantanamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.”

In all, 86 men remain at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release from the facility, 56 without restrictions, another 30 with conditions, all this despite the fact President Obama signed an executive order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, more than four years ago.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And promptly to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.

RAY SUAREZ: But Congress has blocked the transfer of any detainees to the mainland U.S. And some, like the Yemeni Moqbel, are men without countries. Their native nations have refused to take them back.

Several high-level al-Qaida detainees, like 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are among the few facing military trial at the prison.