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29 Mar, 2013 10:05

Gitmo hunger strike: Pentagon remains silent

The Guantanamo hunger strike has been growing in scale, with at least 11 of 31 protesting inmates currently being force-fed. However, the latest Pentagon briefing did not mention the crisis at the detention center.

RT’s Gayane Chichakyan attended a news conference with Chuck Hagel this Thursday at the Pentagon, during which time the Defense Secretary did not mention the Guantanamo hunger strike which now enters its 52nd day.

Follow RT's in-depth day-by-day timeline on Gitmo hunger strike

As you know half of the men at Guantanamo have been cleared for release, yet they are still there, locked up, stuck in this limbo, desperate. And I was going to ask, when they will let these men go and whether this would make any difference if somebody died in this ongoing hunger strike… I never got the chance to ask that question,” Chichakyan said. 

This comes in contrast with the White House, which had also refrained from commenting on the protest. Officials broke their silence on Thursday, when Obama spokesperson Joshua Earnest said the White House was “closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay,” and that the “administration remains committed to closing the detention facility.

The Pentagon did not follow suit. The Department of Defense recently requested almost $200 million to renovate the Guantanamo prison, which makes it unlikely the US will close down the facility in the near future.

At the beginning of 2013, the State Department shuttered the office that was in charge of closing the prison. At a State Department briefing earlier this week, RT attempted to ask a question on Guantanamo, to no avail.

Either [it’s because] they watch RT or their media person there just didn’t take questions from anyone who’s not attending briefings on a daily basis, which I don’t. One way or another, our questions remained unanswered,” Chichakyan said. 

She added the only person who has responded to RT’s inquiries on the detainees was Guantanamo prison spokesperson Robert Durand, who can only comment on a limited range of topics: the deteriorating health of the detainees, and the latest numbers on how many detainees are on strike at the moment, which stands at 31. 

Eleven of the hunger-strikers are being force-fed – a highly controversial practice, as must be tied down in a restraining chair while a feeding tube is inserted into their nose. Three men have been hospitalized for dehydration.

Earlier this week, the striking detainees complained to their lawyers that Guantanamo authorities were trying to halt their protest by denying them access to drinking water and keeping temperatures at the facility extremely low. 

A group of human rights lawyers reacted to the complaint by filing an emergency motion with a federal court in Washington detailing the alleged mistreatment. The motion has not received a response from the US government; Gitmo spokesperson Durand dismissed the allegations of mistreatment.  

President Obama pledged to close Guantanamo as he assumed office in 2009. However, he was unable to act on his promise after Congress imposed restrictions on Gitmo detainee transfers. 

The current hunger strike at Guantanamo is not the first at the facility, but is the biggest so far. It started early in February, reportedly sparked by detainee’s being mistreated by guards, including searches, confiscation of personal items and the desecration of Korans. However, the detainees’ attorneys say their clients’ are mainly protesting against being indefinitely detained, even though 86 out of 166 prisoners have been cleared for release.