GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba - Navy medical workers were treating two detainees suffering dehydration in the prison camp hospital at Guantanamo as the military disclosed Tuesday that the number of hunger strikers had risen to 24.
The military said in a statement that eight of the 166 war-on-terror captives had missed enough meals and lost enough body weight to be fed nutritional supplements by tubes snaked up their noses and into their stomachs. Guards shackle detainees into restraint chairs to carry out the twice daily feedings.
Two detainees were at the hospital receiving electrolytes for dehydration, the statement said. It did not make clear whether those two men were considered part of the eight receiving Ensure nutritional supplements or among the 24 men defined Tuesday morning as "hunger strikers."
The Pentagon defines hunger strikers as those who refuse nine consecutive meals, are not seen snacking and have lost a certain amount of body weight, case by case. Tube feedings are begun after additional factors.
Prisoners who eat nine consecutive meals can be taken off the hunger strike roll.
The detainees claim through their lawyers that the hunger strike seeks to end prison camp searches of their personal copies of the Quran, which the prisoners argue has amounted to desecration. They claim that the hunger strike has been under way since early February with detainees drinking water or honey water for sustenance.
The prison camps' spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, denies that the staff has done anything but follow their years-old Quran-handling procedures, which permit Muslim linguists in the camps to search the books at the discretion of military commanders. Guards don't touch the Qurans, and the linguists treat the books with respect, he said.
"They want an apology for Quran abuse that didn't happen," Durand said. "And they want the Quran exempted from future searches. It's a Catch-22."
Durand for a time had denied the existence of unusual hunger-striking activity beyond the five or six men among the 166 captives who have regularly shunned food for years and are segregated from the other captives for tube feedings.
Prison staff members have provided food pantries in each cellblock at Camp 6, the most populous of Guantanamo's prison camps, with cell space for 200 captives. And, Durand said, the military could see men who skipped meals snacking.
Friday evening, Durand said there were 14 hunger strikers, six of them on tube feedings.
"We are fully in acknowledgement that this is a hunger strike that has grown from 5 to 7 to 14 to now 21," Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday.
"While the roots of this thing were based on a detainee-created myth - there was no Quran desecration or mishandling," Breasseale said, "the Quran is the one thing many of the detainees can rally around. So the myth-making around that continues."