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Half of Guantanamo detainees on hunger strike

Officials say half of Guantanamo's 166 prisoners are refusing to eat.

Guantanamo detention center 2012 10 23Enlarge
This picture shows a shadow of a US soldier next to a placard on a fence at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. (AFP/Getty Images)

Guantanamo detainees have found a dangerous way to defy their detention at the infamous US detention center: a hunger strike so disabling that one in 10 prisoners there are being force-fed, according to US officials.

Officials said 84 of the prison's 166 inmates had joined the strike as of Tuesday. The Associated Press said there were conflicting reports as to the exact number of strikers, however. Several prisoners have reportedly been hospitalized. 

The strike began in February after prisoners were angered by a raid. They accused the guards of desecrating the Islamic holy book, or Quran, during the search, a charge the US military denies.

That dispute is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the controversy that is Guantanamo, however. Critics of the United States' high-security detention center in Cuba say America is holding prisoners there without adequate legal protection.

The US government, for its part, believes the detainees have ties to high-profile terrorist activity and sees their detainment as critical to the nation's security. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom the US accuses of being the "mastermind" behind the September 2001 attacks that killed over 3,000 people in New York City, is among those held at Guantanamo. 

According to one hunger striker's account in The New York Times, the larger controversy surrounding the prison lies at the heart of their protest. Yemeni prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel wrote in February:

"I will not eat until they restore my dignity. I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial. I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either."

US President Barack Obama had promised to close the prison, but has so far failed to do so.

American authorities have also been accused of using controversial enhanced interrogation techniques on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. In January, a legal group filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding that US officials release video footage of interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo Bay, CNN reported

Meanwhile, US efforts to relocate high-risk prisoners elsewhere quickly turned into a legal nightmare

Back at Guantanamo, officials appear to be increasingly concerned that prisoners will try to take their own lives.

Earlier in April, The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg wrote: "detainees had covered up most of the prison's surveillance cameras and kept themselves largely out of view of their US Army guards, the military said, stirring fears that some were planning to commit suicide."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130423/hungry-justice-guantanamo-detainees-refusing-foo