By Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky, CNN
For the first time in recent memory, the forgotten detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay are getting the world's attention.
The U.S. government acknowledges that 100 prisoners are on hunger strikes, though defense attorneys think that number is considerably higher. Just last month, officials said the number was only 31 prisoners.
Officials say medical staff are force feeding 21 prisoners who are at the greatest risk of starving themselves to death – an invasive process that involves running a tube through the nasal passage into the stomach and then feeding the patient a nutritional supplement. Attorneys for the prisoners describe the process as excruciating.
United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has asked the Obama administration to release 86 of the prisoners who were approved for transfer in 2010.
Guantanamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel wrote a New York Times column, earlier this month, under the headline, "Gitmo is killing me."
"The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply and there's no end in sight to our imprisonment," Moqbel wrote. "Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice that we have made."
But, on Monday, Colonel Greg Julian told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he does not anticipate any deaths.
Col. Julian is the public affairs chief for the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo.
"We have a good medical staff on board," he told Amanpour. "And there are no life-threatening circumstances at this point." Though this is likely because of the forced feeding.
Col. Julian disagrees about the pain involved in the force feeding procedure, saying, "This is the same procedure that used in civilian hospitals for people that are in a condition where they're unable to eat normally."
A defense attorney for some of the prisoners, Carlos Warner, has repeatedly said President Obama is ignoring the situation.
"They've been accused of nothing," Warner previously told Amanpour. "They are not only innocent, but the government has agreed they're not dangerous to release."
Col. Julian said there's a misunderstanding of the term, "approved for transfer."
"That means that they've been approved for transfer to another country's detention facility. It doesn't mean that they're innocent and it doesn't mean that they're cleared to be released into the public."
Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is also calling for the transfer of the 56 Yemenis on the "'approved for transfer" list – calling the U.S. Policy of unlimited detention "clear-cut tyranny."
The Office of Military Commissions conducts the legal process, according to Col. Julian. And then U.S. political leaders "will determine the transferability of the detainees."
Some members of Congress have said this is merely a stalling tactic, and that the Pentagon doesn't want to move on this issue.
There have also been a number of suicide attempts at Guantanamo.
"By inspecting their cells and monitoring them closely, we're better able to prevent that from happening," Col. Julian said. "There is no 100 percent solution to keep somebody that's determined to cause themselves harm. But we're doing our best."
But if one of the prisoners were to die, what will that say about America?
"We have the means to keep them alive and well," Col. Julian assured.