Returning from trip to US prison camp, senators says inmates' care is 'safe and respectful' as dozens protest treatment
A cross-party delegation consisting of two leading US senators and President Barack Obama's most senior aide have reaffirmed a determination to close Guantánamo Bay following a visit to the camp.
In a joint statement late Friday, Republican senator John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said it remained in the "national interest" to shutter the centre and move inmates to other locations.
It comes amid a growing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay now entering its fifth month. As of Saturday, 104 of the 166 people still being held at the centre were refusing food. Of those 41 were being force-fed, with four in hospital.
The action was sparked by allegedly heavy-handed searches of cells by prison guards. Inmates and their lawyers have since complained that those taking part in the action are being victimised and forced to endure lengthy sessions of being tube-fed against their will.
In an attempt to break the resolve of hunger-strikers, authorities have moved inmates out of communal areas and into single cells, where they can be more closely monitored.
There have also been allegations of humiliating body-cavity searches being used as a tool to intimidate detainees wishing to speak to their lawyers.Authorities at the camp have denied the claim.
But in an indication of worsening conditions at the camp, recent months have seen an increase in personnel being drafted in to cope with the hunger strike. In April, a 40-strong backup medical team arrived at the camp. And earlier this week, it was announced that guard numbers were being boosted by 125 soldiers from a military police company based in Puerto Rico.
In a joint-statement following the Washington delegation's visit to the naval base in Cuba, Feinstein, McCain and McDonough said the inmates were being kept in a "safe and respectful" way.
But they reiterated the view that the camp should be closed, with its inmate population – 86 of whom have been cleared for transfer or release – moved to other facilities or repatriated.
The statement read: "We continue to believe that it is in our national interest to end detention at Guantánamo, with a safe and orderly transition of the detainees to other locations.
"We intend to work, with a plan by Congress and the administration together, to take the steps necessary to make that happen."
Whether they can find the will in Washington to push through the site's closure is, however, less than certain.
President Obama had vowed to close Guantánamo Bay shortly after taking office in 2009. But his efforts were thwarted by Congress, with lawmakers claiming that the White House had failed to address concerns over what will happen to terror suspects after the camp's closure.
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