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Guantanamo hunger strike grows to 42 prisoners

Associated Press
January 12, 2009

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The long-running Guantanamo Bay hunger strike has grown to 42 prisoners, the U.S. military said Monday, but a human rights group claimed the total was higher.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, told reporters that more than 70 men held at the U.S. base in Cuba were refusing to eat to protest their confinement.

Prisoners who refuse meals are force-fed and none is in immediate danger, said Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a spokeswoman for the detention center.

Even at 42, more Guantanamo prisoners are on hunger strike than any time since the spring of 2006.

Gutierrez, who returned over the weekend from a visit to the base, said the higher figure is based on interviews with prisoners and letters the men have sent to lawyers.

"They are frustrated that they remain in prison without an end in sight," she said.

Military authorities force-feed detainees with a liquid nutrient mix to prevent any from starving. Prisoners have complained that the U.S. uses excessive force to strap them into special restraint chairs for the feedings, an allegation the government denies.

Military authorities believe the spread of the hunger strike, from 30 prisoners on Thursday, is timed to coincide with Sunday's seventh anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners and the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, Storum said.

The U.S. holds about 250 men at Guantanamo, mostly on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.