Guantanamo's growing hunger strike. Why now?

More than 30 of the detention facility's 166 captives are refusing to eat

A guard walks through a cellblock on March 5 inside Camp V, Guantanamo Bay.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Bob Strong)

The Red Cross rushed two representatives to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, this week to check on terrorism suspects who have joined a growing hunger strike at the U.S. detention facility there. At least 31 of the 166 captives still being held at the American Navy base at Guantanamo are reportedly refusing to eat to protest conditions at the prison; 11 are receiving nourishment through feeding tubes, and three have been hospitalized. A Red Cross spokesman says the hunger strike is linked to the detainees' open-ended state of limbo — only six are facing trials by military commission (for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen).

The Navy is scrambling to muster medical personnel to fly from the U.S. to help deal with the crisis in case "the hunger strike significantly expands in scope and duration," says Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the detention center spokesman. The news of the strike has revived debate over whether the U.S. should be keeping the prisoners there at all. In the 2008 campaign, President Obama promised to close the prison camp. A majority of the men detained there — about 90 of them — have been cleared for release, but are being prevented from leaving due to red tape imposed by Congress, and instability in their home countries.

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Harold Maass, The Week US

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at The Week. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 debut of the U.S. print edition and served as editor of when it launched in 2008. Harold started his career as a newspaper reporter in South Florida and Haiti. He has previously worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, ABC News and Fox News, and for several years wrote a daily roundup of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance.