Hunger Strikers Comprise Half of Guantanamo Detainees, Military Reports

Lt. Col. Samuel House reported Monday that over the last ten days the number of detainees on hunger strike has nearly doubled at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As of Monday, there are 84 detainees on hunger strike, House said, which accounts for half of the detainees.

There are 166 men from foreign countries detained at Guantanamo Bay. Most of them have been detained for more than a decade without having been charged for a crime, the impetus behind the widespread hunger strike.

The U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay was opened in 2002 to hold detainees who the U.S. government determined were connected to the global war on terror.

The prison-wide hunger strike began in February 2013. House explained that there are "multiple criteria" used to determine if a detainee is on hunger strike, one of which is refusing to eat nine consecutive meals. As a result, a task force has been established to conduct a "thorough medical evaluation of each detainee," House said. This has led to the military force-feeding 16 men who have lost enough weight to be fed liquid nutrients through a tube down their nose. Some of the men have been hospitalized for rehydration and observation.

In late March, Carlos Warner, a federal public defender from Ohio, visited his client, Fayiz Muhammad Ahmad Al-Kandari from Kuwait, who he says at the time had appeared to have lost 20 percent of his body weight. Of Al-Kandari, Warner said, "He had sallow cheeks. His waist was shockingly thin. His waist looked like the waist of my six-year-old child. He was skin and bones."

Army Capt. Jason Wright, the appointed military defense counsel of another detainee, said he was "shocked" by his client's appearance, saying, "I think this is a manifestation of sheer desperation and hopelessness."

Other defense attorneys have expressed their concerns as well.

Between 2008-2010, President Obama authorized 71 detainees to be transferred from Guantanamo to their home or third countries.

In 2009, an interagency task force that included representatives of the military and intelligence community unanimously recommended that 56 additional detainees who were deemed to be low-risk be transferred out of the prison to their home country or another country. None have left since then.

One of these detainees is British citizen Shaker Aamer, whose case will be debated in the British Parliament on Wednesday.

Shaker Aamer, 47, a one-time U.S. Army translator during the Persian Gulf War,
has never seen his fourth child. His son, Faris, was born on February 14, 2002, the same day Aamer arrived at Guantanamo.

Aamer, detainee number 239, has never been charged with a crime and was not captured by the U.S. military; Afghan villagers turned him over to the U.S. military. Aamer is one of the 56 low-risk detainees approved to be transferred three years ago.

To date, over 100,000 British citizens have signed a petition for his release.

"The fact that Shaker remains at Guantanamo today is not because he's a dangerous individual or because he's guilty of anything," said his attorney, Ramzi Kassem, an associate professor at City University of New York Law School. "Shaker was not in Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, al Qaeda, or any other armed group."

Aamer allegedly moved to Afghanistan in June 2001 to work for a Muslim charity to build schools for Afghan orphans.

Two years ago, several British members of Parliament wrote to U.S. Congress members calling on the U.S. to release Aamer. They never received a response, according to British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn, who has called on President Obama to fulfill his 2008 campaign pledge. Corbyn said of Obama, "He told the world he would close down Guantanamo Bay, because he thought it was a disfigurement of the principles of U.S. democracy and justice. I want him to stand by his words."

In 2011, the Obama Administration issued an executive order to establish periodic review boards of Guantanamo detainees, which would be overseen by the Defense, State, and Justice Departments. These boards have not yet been organized.

To date, nine detainees have died in Guantanamo, which is more than the number convicted in military commissions.