Hunger strike figures hold as US sends more medics to Guantanamo
MIAMI — The number of hunger strikers at Guantanamo held at just over half the prisoners Tuesday as the Southern Command said it was sending additional military medical forces to help out the 100-member Navy medical staff carrying out forced feedings.
The Southern Command asked the Pentagon for not-quite 40 additional military medical staffers more than a month ago, while they planned for the April 13 raid at Guantanamo that put dozens of rule-breaking prisoners under lockdown, Army Col. Greg Julian said Tuesday morning. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the order, and individual medical forces are being trained for the assignment for arrival by the end of May, he said.
Julian identified the reinforcements as a mixture of reservists and active-duty military health providers who were being drawn from all four services, none currently serving overseas. But at Guantanamo, acting prison spokesman Lt. Col. Samuel House said he was told to expect an all Navy medical staff of doctors, nurses, corpsmen and psychological technicians “in the next few weeks.”
Medical staff, who wear sailors’ battle dress and have taken on the pseudonyms of Shakespearean characters, are distinctive in the camps from the Army troops that guard the captives and wear serial numbers in place of their names on their uniforms.
Confirmation of the coming expansion to the 1,700 or so staff members working at the prison of 166 captives came on the same day that House said another captive was now considered too malnourished or too sick to go without supplemental feedings.
Medical military staff listed 84 captives as hunger strikers, he said, the same count as the day before.
But the number of captives receiving liquid nutritional supplements through tubes was 17 on Tuesday, up from 16 on Monday.
The hunger strike figure has nearly doubled since the April 13 operation that put nearly every Guantanamo captive under lockdown. Julian said from Southcom’s Miami-Dade headquarters that commanders were attributing the rise to examinations of captives who had turned noncooperative in communal lockups as well as the current lockdown.
“People are angry and now willing to join,” Julian said. Also, however, the military medical staff was able to “identify people who they didn’t have a good visibility on” before the lockdown.
Lawyers for the detainees have long argued that participation in the hunger strike was higher, with captives reporting to their attorneys estimates of 130 hunger strikers with only the weak, ill and former CIA captives confined to a separate camp still eating.
An attorney who saw a one-named Afghan hunger striker, Obaidullah, on Monday said he was struck by how “really, really thin” the 30-something captive had become. Obaidullah’s handshake was delivered by “a bag of bones,” said Marine Maj. Derek Poteet, who quoted the captive as saying that the 10 to 12 detainees a day were seeing doctors at the former communal Camp 6, or about one-sixth of the population under lockdown in that one prison building.
Obaidullah described a form of collective punishment being meted out to all the Camp 6 captives, Poteet said, with those who resisted the April 13 operation getting the same few basic issue items in their cells as those who went peacefully. The Afghan said since his lockdown in an empty cell he had never received soap or a toothbrush - a claim Julian flatly disputed as “nonsense.”
“We anticipate more claims of mistreatment since we have transitioned to single-cell procedures,” Julian said by email. “But at no time is a detainee deprived of the basic elements of humane treatment: food, water, religious articles, hygiene items, medical treatment, or physical recreation opportunities.”
Obaidullah claimed through his lawyer that he was in the outdoor recreation yard before dawn at the time of the rain, doing his ritual washing, or ablutions, when the guards came inside firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Julian said everybody in the camp was put under lockdown because the military assessed that everybody in the communal camp disobeyed the rules by disabling or covering up cameras in individual cell that monitored their activity.
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