The White House said Wednesday it was keeping an eye on the hunger strike at the Pentagon’s war on terror prison at Guantánamo and once again blamed Congress for its inability to close the detention center containing 166 captives.
“The White House and the president’s team is closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay,” Joshua Earnest, principal deputy press secretary, told reporters in response to a question.
Earnest’s were believed to be the first public remarks by a White House official since news surfaced of the ongoing hunger strike.
Wednesday, the detention center spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand said the medical staff counted nearly 19 percent of the captives, or 31 or them, as hunger strikers, with 11 being fed nutritional supplements through tubes and three hospitalized.
Earnest added that President Barack Obama is still “committed to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Progress has been made under this and the previous administration. But given the legislation that Congress has put in place, it’s clear it’s going to take some time.”
Earnest declined to comment on what is motivating the hunger strike — “I wouldn’t want to judge about what these individuals may or may not be thinking” — but noted that delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross were at the prison this week.
Two delegates, a doctor and a second man, arrived at the base Monday, the vanguard of a 13-member delegation that was due to make a regular visit next week. The ICRC’s Washington, D.C., spokesman, Simon Schorno, said the two went down earlier because of the hunger strike and current tensions.
The role of the Red Cross is not to pressure “the detaining authorities to accept the detainees’ demands, nor the detainees to end the strike,” Schorno said Wednesday. And the Red Cross won’t “take a public position on the causes and goals of the hunger strike, nor play a role in any negotiations between detainees and prison authorities.”
The ICRC is opposed to forced feedings, citing World Medical Association stances. But it does use its medical staff to advise detainees about “the medical consequences of a prolonged hunger strike and to make the medical staff and detaining authorities aware of the ethical issues and applicable standards,” Schorno said.
Separately, attorneys for a Yemeni captive made an emergency court filing on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., alleging that guards at Guantánamo’s communal camp had denied two cellblocks bottled water since Sunday. The motion also claimed that the temperature in the prison were lowered to “extremely frigid” levels — claims the prison camps spokesman, Durand, denied.
Bottled water continues to be provided, Durand said, adding that tap water is potable at the prison called Camp 6 built of cement blocks at a site that once housed tent cities for Haitian and Cuba migrants. He added that, if Camp 6 captives feel cold, they can walk into the open-air recreation yards, where the temperatures this time of year reaches the high 80s.
“We are assisting the Department of Defense in preparing a response to these allegations via the Department of Justice,” Durand said, “but they are absolutely false.”
McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.