By Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky, CNN
More and more detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison are joining a hunger strike to protest their conditions.
The U.S. government says 31 prisoners have now stopped eating. At least 11 of them have lost so much weight that they are now being force-fed.
Some of these detainees have been in detention for more than 11 years with no trial and no end in sight, even though many have long-since been cleared for transfer to their home countries, or to a third country.
The hunger strikes started in February, when prisoners claim that guards searched through their personal effects, including their Qurans — a practice they protested.
A military spokesman denies any mishandling of the prisoners' holy books.
In testimony earlier this month, the Marine Corps commander overseeing Guantanamo pointed to a more fundamental reason for the hunger strike.
“They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed,” Gen. John F. Kelly said. “They were devastated when the president backed off - at least their perception - of closing the facility.”
Carlos Warner is a public defender representing 11 Guantanamo detainees, two of whom are among are hunger strikers. One of them, a Kuwaiti named Fayez al-Kandari, has lost more than 30 pounds in recent weeks.
Warner just returned from Guantanamo, where he described the conditions as “dire” in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
A change in military commander at Guantanamo Bay sparked the current situation, Warner told Amanpour.
“Col. Bogdan lit the fuel on fire by his oppressive search of the men and taking away the things that they had grown accustomed to for years, like isomats,” which Warner described as a type of insulated bed mat the prisoners had been sleeping on. In the midst of that situation, Warner said the search of Qurans took place and became a rallying point for the detainees there.
“This is about frustration; this is about the Obama administration ignoring Guantanamo in every way, shape and form.”
Warner describes himself as a liberal who supported President Obama, but is disappointed that Obama has completely ignored Guantanamo and blamed Republicans in Congress – an argument Warner rejects.
“There's not one person in this administration that I can call and say I need to talk somebody in the White House about the hunger strike.”
Warner said there had been one person in the State Department, Daniel Fried, whose job was to oversee the closing down of Guantanamo; but now, his office has actually been closed down.
This leaves Warner’s clients in “indefinite detention” for life, he said. “It leaves them with the prospect of the only way we leave Guantanamo is death. And unfortunately, I think the men are ready to embrace this. And I don't see the military backing off.”
Warner told Amanpour the military rejected a possible solution his clients offered up: “The men wanted to voluntarily surrender the Qurans. They would rather not have their Qurans than have them searched in the manner that they'd been searched. This would get them eating tomorrow.”
This was previously allowed in Guantanamo from 2006 to 2007, according to Warner. He said the new command either is unaware of that; or is unwilling to go that step.
“That would not solve the problem. But it would get the men eating again,” Warner said.