Guantanamo guards have been accused of using the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to massage hunger strike numbers, after the U.S. military claimed on Sunday that less than half of the inmate population are now on strike.
In an update, army spokesman Lt. Col. Sam House said 81 detainees were still refusing food as part of a protest that began in February.
The official figure is down 15 from the previous day and 25 from a recent high of 106.
It has raised the prospect that the hunger strike — which has put a spotlight on conditions in the camp — may be on the wane.
But lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees are suspicious of the figures, with one leading advocate for the camp’s closure claiming that the military are “cheating on the numbers as usual”.
On Friday, House raised the prospect that the number of hunger-strikers could fall rapidly in the coming days, saying that 99 of the then 102 detainees taking part had eaten a meal within the past 24 hours. Guards at Guantanamo require several days of sustained eating before prisoners are taken off the list of hunger-strikers.
It is not known if the apparent drop in numbers shows that the protest is cooling, or if inmates are taking a pause in the strike to coincide with Ramadan.
Guantanamo spokesman Robert Durand had earlier suggested that most of the 166 prisoners held at the camp ate a lamb meal to break the first day of Ramadan, the l period of fasting from dawn to sunset.
But lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said his client Shaker Aamer had told him on Friday that guards were using Ramadan to massage the numbers.
“The military are cheating on the numbers as usual. Some detainees are taking a token amount of food as part of the traditional breaking of the fast at the end of each day in Ramadan, so that is now conveniently allowing them to be counted as not striking,” Mr. Stafford Smith said.
Aamer — held at Guantanamo for more than 11 years yet never charged — also claimed during a phone call with Mr. Stafford Smith that fellow inmates were being punished by being held in isolation during Ramadan if they refused to eat. Mr. Stafford Smith — currently on day five of a hunger strike in solidarity with his clients — says the focus on the numbers should not distract from the strikers’ goal.
“What the numbers are makes no difference to the ultimate issue — that President Obama should do as he promised four years ago, free the cleared prisoners and close the prison. Nothing changes the fact that the military have behaved shamefully and continue to do so,” he said.
“Nobody could imagine that all the prisoners could keep this up forever. There will be some who will, though.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013
Some detainees are taking a token amount of food as part of the breaking of the fast, says lawyer