Guantánamo Bay Hunger Strike May Be Winding Down

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Photo: John Moore/2009 Getty Images

The military reported on Sunday that the number of Guantánamo Bay detainees on hunger strike is decreasing, not that having 81 of 166 prisoners still refusing food is very good news. The number has been dropping steadily since Wednesday, when participation in the strike hit a high of 106. The military had forced detainees into individual-cell lockdown after a raid in April, but with the start of Ramadan last week compliant prisoners were allowed to move back into communal living conditions and continue praying together. “We can't speculate why they are choosing to come off hunger strike. It may be because of Ramadan or because they feel they've gotten their message across,”  Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a base spokesman, told CBS News. On the other hand, some say the military may actually be using the Islamic holy month to distort the statistics.

"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," said Clive Stafford Smith, an attorney whose organization, Reprieve, represents detainees. David Remes, another Guantánamo defense attorney, told the New York Times he's also skeptical about the military's figures, and wants to talk with his clients about their reasons for ending the strike. “Perhaps the authorities finally made hunger striking such a horrendous experience that some men, at least, are dropping out,” Remes said. “Perhaps some men feel the hunger strike has achieved its goals by forcing Guantánamo back onto the national agenda and jump-starting the transfer process. There are still other ways to read the numbers. Until we speak with our clients, we can only speculate.”

One number has remained unchanged: The amount of detainees who have lost enough weight to qualify for force feedings. Since July 2 that figure has held steady at 45.