Here's a new twist in the U.S. military's Islamic sensitivity effort in the prison camps for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base:
Military medical staff are force-feeding a secret number of prisoners on hunger strike between dusk and dawn during the Muslim fasting holiday of Ramadan.
The prison camps spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Bradley Fagan, says it is U.S. Southern Command policy to no longer reveal the exact number of detainees being shackled by guards into restraint chairs for twice daily feedings.
Instead, he said, "less than 10" captives among the 176 held for years at Guantanamo were last week counted as hunger strikers.
"Detainees who are fasting get their meals before dawn," he said Wednesday, disclosing only the hours of that day's feeding "in observance of the Ramadan schedule" -- before 5:26 a.m. and after 7:28 p.m.
"Please note,'' he added, ``that not all hunger strikers are enteral feeders."
As prison camps spokesman, Fagan has clamped a new level of secrecy on the Pentagon's practice of pumping protein shakes into the stomachs of captives who refuse to eat meals catered to the prison camps by Defense Department contractors.
A fact sheet dated June 28 on the Guantanamo website disclosed some other figures: "Each detainee receives 5,500-6,000 calories per day and has six menus to choose from. Feast meals are served two times per week."
It put the price of meeting the captives "cultural and dietary needs" at approximately $3 million a year.
Fagan's predecessors had scrupulously referred to a complex matrix that calculated the number of skipped meals and weight loss to disclose the numbers of hunger strikers versus those being shackled to a chair and fed twice a day by tube.
On Feb. 11, 2009, for example, the prison camps reported that 41 of the 245 captives held at Guantánamo at the start of the Obama administration were classified as hunger strikers. That day, 35 were getting twice-a-day, one-hour feedings.
Guantánamo detainees have turned to hunger strikes across the years as a method of both protest and challenging authority in the remote prison camps in southeast Cuba. The military has responded with a range of methods to try to disrupt the strikes -- introduction of the feeding chair, segregation and isolation of those who take part, banishment from the most communal of camps where captives can pray and eat together.
Prison camps commanders have argued the procedure was painless and two admirals said they had personally had Navy medical staff nourish them through ``enteral feedings'' to check it out.
Fagan did say that the prison camps is hewing to past practice of using military medical staff for feedings.
To demystify it a bit, Navy prison camp hospital workers some years back created a display of different flavored supplements and let visiting reporters handle a sample yellow rubber feeding tube.
By last summer, staff were pointing to Butter Pecan flavored Ensure as popular with the chair-shackled captives. Flavor made no difference going down, one nurse explained, but a captive could taste it if he burped later.
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