MIAMI - Guards were preparing to serve the first in a series of special meals Wednesday to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to mark the end of the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, which this year brought a lull in a long-running hunger strike.
The military planned to serve lamb, bread, dates and honey as the last daylight fasting period of Ramadan ends, followed by three traditional holiday dinners on Thursday, said a spokesman for the prison, Navy Capt. Robert Durand. There will also be a special hour-long prayer for the holiday known as Eid al-Fitr in addition to the five daily prayers.
Durand said he expects that most of the 166 prisoners would take part in the Eid al-Fitr meals, but it remains to be seen whether later there will be a resurgence of the protest that prompted President Barack Obama to say he would resume efforts to close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Since Ramadan started in early July, the number of prisoners who met the military criteria to be declared hunger strikers dropped by more than half and there were few clashes with guards as most of the men kept the traditional daytime fast. "It's generally been much calmer," Durand said. "It's basically sleep, pray and talk."
Officials said that, as of Wednesday, 55 men were classified as hunger strikers even though most had eaten at least one meal in the previous 24 hours. There were 39 who met the criteria to be tube-fed with liquid nutrients, but Durand said none were in immediate danger.
Lawyers for the detainees have challenged the strike numbers provided by the military since the protest began in February, but several said it was likely that men began eating again so they could celebrate the Ramadan meal in the evening with their fellow inmates. The military keeps hunger strikers in single-person cells for most of the day.
"It's kind of like having to spend Christmas alone. Some people felt they had no choice but to take a little bit of nutrition," said Cori Crider, a lawyer for the British human rights group Reprieve.
Another factor may have just been fatigue: "It is fanciful to suggest that all is goodness is light now, but it is certainly true to suggest that people are just getting worn out after six months of starving themselves," Crider said.
It's also possible some prisoners decided the protest achieved one of its principal goals with the recent announcement by the Obama administration that it prisoner releases would resume, starting with two Algerians, said Washington-based attorney David Remes. "It will be interesting to see how much of an uptick there is after this holiday," he said.