Guantanamo detainees step up protest: Number of hunger strikers rises to 24

Detainees accuse guards of several abuses

WASHINGTON - The number of detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo military prison has nearly doubled since last week, officials at the detention center confirmed Tuesday.
Guantanamo Communications director captain Robert Durand said 24 prisoners were now on hunger strike, up from 15 since March 11. But he rejected claims that the majority of detainees were involved in the protest.
"The reports of hunger-strike-related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue," Durand said.
"Today, Tuesday, March 19, 2013, we have 24 hunger strikers, with 8 on internal feed," he said.
The number of inmates with a feeding tube has remained steady since Friday, he said, adding that "two detainees are currently hospitalized for dehydration."
A group of around 50 lawyers representing most of Guantanamo's 166 prisoners has said the majority of the detainees held in Camp 6, which houses 130 prisoners, are on hunger-strike.
Omah Farah, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said several prisoners had lost 40-50 pounds and most had lost between 20-30 pounds.
Farah accused camp authorities of seeking to downplay the extent of the strike, which began on February 6 to protest searches carried out by prison guards.
Detainees have accused guards of "desecrating" Korans during the searches. Camp officials have strongly denied any mistreatment of the religious books.
"The prisoners know that the Guantanamo staff is denying the scale of this peaceful protest, and it's provoking the men to take even more strict approach to their hunger strike," Farah said.
"It is irresponsible for Guantanamo authorities to deny or to diminish the severity of what's going on because that is only going to further jeopardize the prisoners' lives and health.
"It will only lead to a worse result."
The detention facility at Guantanamo was opened in 2002 to house prisoners rounded up in "War on Terror" waged by President George W. Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks.