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Hunger-Striking Detainees At Guantanamo Are Force-Fed


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Guantanamo Bay detention center had more or less faded from the news until this week, when President Obama called it unsustainable. He and others are paying attention now because of an ongoing and growing hunger strike of at least - as of this morning - 100 prisoners. More than 20 are being force fed to keep them alive.

This week, the military flew in dozens of extra medics to help deal with the situation in this facility, set up originally to hold international terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald recently returned from one of many reporting trips to Guantanamo Bay. She described the force-feeding at the prison.

CAROL ROSENBERG: Twice a day, if you're designated for what they call tube-feeding, you are shackled at the wrists and ankles to a chair, and a corpsman, a Navy medic, snakes a tube up your nose, down the back of your throat, into your stomach, and pumps a can of Ensure inside.

Now, the military likes to say that hospitals do this all the time to patients who can't get their own nutrition. But the big difference is these men are on a hunger strike, which they consider to be a protest. They are fully conscious, and there is no consent - as best as I can tell - to this procedure twice a day.

MONTAGNE: Give us a brief history of how this began, and how this hunger strike spread so widely through the prison.

ROSENBERG: As best as I can tell, relations started deteriorating around the first of the year, when a new guard force arrived at the communal camps. We had a first-ever episode of rubber bullets being shot into the showcase camp. We had a shakedown of the cells that the prisoner's lawyers said had been more invasive than in years. And then the prisoners covered up their cameras and blinded the guards. So April 13th, the troops stormed the communal camp and locked everybody into an individual cell. Once that happened, the hunger strike took off, and we now have 100 men refusing to eat.

MONTAGNE: Did you see anything different this last time you went there from your previous visits?

ROSENBERG: What I saw in this last trip was a style of detention, a military doctrine that we have not seen in the Obama administration. It was reminiscent of the Bush years. Throughout the Obama years, the majority of these detainees lived POW-style, in groups. They got to pray together, eat together, play soccer together. And what's happened since a raid on April 13th is that virtually every prisoner in Guantanamo is under lockdown, 22, could be 24 hours a day. And that's because of the hunger strike.

MONTAGNE: But is there a deeper layer to this kind of despair of ever getting out?

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. When President Obama took over, his taskforce designated half of these men for release. It meant that the State Department and the Defense Department should find a solution for sending them elsewhere to another country, to rehabilitation, possibly to further detention. This happened four years ago, and the frustration has built.

MONTAGNE: Well, President Obama has said he supports the force-feeding, because he does not want to see anyone die. But how able will he be now to do what he said he was going to do when he first took office - and that is move out some of these people and end a situation that is, as he puts it, not sustainable?

ROSENBERG: What he did this week was renewed his commitment to closure. What he didn't do was make clear how he was going to accomplish that. Congress has imposed hurdles on transfers and releases of detainees. But they have left a little wiggle room if the secretary of defense will certify that someone is approved for transfer. If the president uses his executive authority to instruct the secretary of defense to undertake certification, we could see some detainees leaving again. And what I know from talking to the people down there - particularly people who spent a long time, like an Arab-American cultural advisor - they need somebody to leave, for the prisoners to regain the hope of the possibility of departure. And that could be - I'm not saying it will be - but it could be the mechanism that ends this hunger strike that's been going on now for about three months.

MONTAGNE: Thank you for talking to us.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Carol Rosenberg is a reporter with the Miami Herald. She's been covering Guantanamo Bay detention center since the first prisoners arrived. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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