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After Decade Of Detention, Guantanamo Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike

Karen Greenberg on All Things Considered (NPR), March 22, 2013

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Twenty-six Guantanamo prisoners are on a hunger strike to protest their continued detention at the island facility. Eight of the men are being fed intravenously. Military officials say detainees told guards that they had stopped eating because of the lack of interest in their plight. Among their complaints: they weren't mentioned in President Obama's inaugural address or the State of the Union.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. More than two dozen detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay are on a hunger strike. U.S. officials say the prisoners are refusing meals because after a decade in detention without trial, they feel they have been forgotten. But lawyers for the men tell a different story. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: There are dueling narratives about why the 26 prisoners at Guantanamo stopped eating. Defense attorneys say the men are upset about a prison search in which they say their Qurans were mishandled by guards. Military officials say the detainees told guards it's because President Obama did not mention them in his inaugural address or in the State of the Union speech. Either way, it's another controversy at the prison.

KAREN GREENBERG: There is a hopelessness now among the detainees.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Karen Greenberg. She's the executive director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School.

GREENBERG: The Obama administration has gone way out of its way to say they are going to make Guantanamo more rational, more adherent to the rule of law, more transparent. And what this hunger strike points out is that in terms of being a detainee not that much has changed.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Missing nine consecutive meals is the definition of a hunger strike at Guantanamo, and officials say prisoners hit that threshold in February. And while they say some of the detainees are sneaking food, there are eight prisoners who are now being fed intravenously.

Defense attorneys say the prisoners stopped eating after guards searched a common area where most of the detainees are housed. Lawyers said the guards confiscated personal items like family letters, photos and attorney mail. They also say guards mishandled the prisoners' Qurans. General John Kelly is the head of the U.S. Southern Command, and he says that last allegation isn't true.

GENERAL JOHN KELLY: No way has a Quran in any way, shape or form been in any way abused or mistreated.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He said that the only Guantanamo staff permitted to handle Qurans are Muslim translators, and they handle the holy book with care. Still, Kelly acknowledged that the detainees are frustrated. Most of the men have been held for 11 years without trial. And there appears to be no end in sight to their detention. In its latest budget request, the U.S. Southern Command asked for $49 million to build a new prison on the island. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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