Clashes at Guantanamo over hunger strike prisoners

Four ‘less than lethal’ rounds fired as guards try to move inmates

A file image from March of the  entrance to Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Reuters

A file image from March of the entrance to Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Reuters

Sun, Apr 14, 2013, 08:31

Weeks of mounting tensions between the military and detainees at the wartime prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, escalated into violence last night during an operation in which guards forced prisoners living in communal housing to move to individual cells.

"Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired," the military said in a statement.

"There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees." Capt Robert Durand, a military spokesman at the base, said the improvised weapons included "batons and broomsticks."

Another military official said that at least one detainee had been hit by a rubber bullet, but that there were no further details about any injuries or how the prisoners had resisted.

The raid came shortly after a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross completed a three-week visit to examine the prisoners and study the circumstances of a growing hunger strike that has escalated tensions for weeks.

The Red Cross visit concluded Friday, and most of the delegation left that same day, though a few flew out Saturday morning, said Simon Schorno, a Red Cross spokesman.

Mr Schorno declined to comment on the raid, saying that no one from the Red Cross delegation had witnessed it. But he did say that the Red Cross believed the hunger strike was the result of how legal uncertainty has affected their mental and emotional health.

Most of the detainees have been held without trial for more than a decade, and the outward flow of detainees has essentially ceased amid congressional restrictions on further transfers.

"The ICRC continues to follow the current tensions and the hunger strike at Guantanamo very closely and with concern," he said. "If necessary, an ICRC team will, in coming days, return to Guantanamo to assess the situation of the detainees on hunger strike in view of this latest development."

As of Friday, the military said, 43 of the 166 detainees at the prison were deemed to be participating in the hunger strike; lawyers for the prisoners contend that the majority of the inmate population is participating.

The military has not allowed reporters to visit the prison for several weeks. A military news release said the commander of the prison task force, Rear Adm. John W. Smith Jr, ordered the operation "to ensure the health and safety" of detainees because prisoners in the communal areas, where guards rarely enter, had covered surveillance cameras, glass partitions and windows, restricting the ability of the guard force to observe them.

It added that "medical personnel conducted individual assessments of each detainee. The ongoing hunger strike necessitated these medical assessments." However, a government official briefed on the action said the operation began significantly earlier than the news release said, and that it took longer for guards to regain control of the camp than planned.

The official also said the prisoners started covering the cameras and windows several months ago.

Detainee lawyers and military officials also disagree about the catalyst for the hunger strike. The lawyers say their clients told them that the guard force had recently became stricter about living conditions and had conducted a search for contraband in early February that involved looking through prisoners' Korans, which they considered to be desecration.

New York Times