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Guantanamo hunger strike numbers drop

Updated July 13 at 2:30 PM
A U.S. military guard checks on detainees in a cell block at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A U.S. military guard checks on detainees in a cell block at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Updated July 13 at 2:30 PM

After more than four months and thousands of force-feedings, the number of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay has declined for the first time in months.

On Thursday, U.S. officials confirmed that 104 men were listed as being on hunger strike, down two from the previous day, and that figure dropped again to 102 on Friday. The military will remove a prisoner from the hunger strike list only if he has, of his own volition, consumed more than 1,500 calories every day for seven days. A spokesman for the prison also said that 99 of the hunger strikers ate a meal within the past 24 hours and that numbers are likely to fluctuate in the coming days.

The number of detainees designated by the military as on hunger strike dropped again on Saturday to 96. Forty five men are still being force-fed nasally, a number that has remained unchanged since July 2.

"We're not rooting for high numbers. We're rooting for the men to achieve their goals," David Remes, a lawyer for several Guantanamo detainees said Saturday. "Until we start speaking with our clients, however, we can't know what's happening on the ground. We can only speculate. In speculating, we have to understand the hunger strikers are not a monolith. The one thing I do believe is that men are not going to give up seeking to achieve their goals."

A military spokesman told the Miami Herald that prisoners have been compliant since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, and that many of the detainees have returned to living in more communal fashion after months in lock-down. Prisoners must agree not to hunger strike in order to gain access to the communal living privileges, such as being allowed to eat and pray together.

Officials at Guantanamo have no plans to change or stop their policy of force-feeding detainees, a process that involves restraining a hunger striker in a chair and forcing a tube into the nose and pumping liquid nutritional drinks into the stomach. On Monday, federal judge Gladys Kessler condemned the force-feedings as she rejected a suit brought by four prisoners asking her for an injunction against the policy, and called on President Obama to take action to end the "painful, humiliating, and degrading" process.

Kessler was not the only judge with harsh words for the administration over Guantanamo this week. A Washington D.C. Circuit judge ruled Thursday that authorities at Guantanamo must stop requiring cavity searches for prisoners who wish to leave their cells to meet with their lawyers or take phone calls, a policy that detainees have described as deeply degrading.

The practice, Judge Royce Lamberth wrote, "flagrantly disregards the need for a light touch on religious and cultural matters." Discouraging detainees from leaving their cells, Lamberth said, "[stands] in stark contrast to the President's insistence on judicial review for every detainee."