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As Red Cross Arrives In Guantanamo, Hunger Strike Grows

Clouds cover the sky over Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Getty Images
Clouds cover the sky over Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The number of detainees on hunger strike at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has grown and Red Cross has moved up a visit to the prison to assess the situation.

The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg, who covers Guantanamo for the paper permanently, reports the government now says 31 out of 166 captives "meet the minimum criteria to be considered hunger strikers."

Rosenberg adds:

"Eleven of them were being fed nutritional supplements mostly fed through tubes snaked up a captive's nose and into his stomach.

"Of the 11, three were hospitalized, receiving both intravenous drips for rehydration as well as the tube feedings, Navy Capt. Robert Durand said Monday from Guantanamo."

Carlos Warner, a public defender representing 11 Guantanamo detainees, spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour today. He described the condition of the prison as "dire."

One of the prisoners asked him to tell the world that they believe "America should take off its mask and just kill us."

According to Warner, the hunger strike began in February when guards allegedly began to search the prisoners' personal belongings including their Qurans. But the hunger strike is also fueled by what prisoners see as an intractable situation.

The Toronto Star explains:

"There are 166 captives remaining in Guantanamo, including the five men currently on trial for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"More than half the population has been cleared by the Pentagon for transfer, yet they remain behind bars due to Congress-imposed restrictions or because they cannot be returned to their countries of citizenship for fear they will be tortured or killed upon their return."

"It leaves them with the prospect of the only way we leave Guantanamo is death," Warner told CNN. "And unfortunately, I think the men are ready to embrace this."

Warner added that the men would eat if the military stops handling their Qurans. He said he blames President Obama, who has not kept his promise to close the prison and Warner says has for all intents and purposes ignored the situation.

Lesley Clark, who covers the White House for McClatchy, tweets that White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said during the daily press briefing today that the White House is "closely monitoring the hunger strikers." He repeated that the administration remains committed to closing the prison.

As for the Red Cross, The Miami Herald reports it is unlikely to resolve the issue because "of a policy that keeps confidential conversations with the host country it visits."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.