- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
More than a third of the 300 Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners at a U.S. Navy detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, yesterday joined a spreading hunger strike sparked by a confrontation over a detainee's turbanlike headdress, a military spokesman said.
The hunger strike began Wednesday during the prisoners' noon meal and grew in numbers at dinner that evening and at breakfast yesterday, said Marine Corps Maj. Steve Cox, a spokesman at the naval base.
In a 45-minute protest yesterday morning, some inmates chanted rhythmically and pushed sleeping mats, bedclothes and other "comfort items" under the chain-link fence enclosing their cells, Maj. Cox said.
The strike was the first instance of organized resistance at the barbed-wire-enclosed detention center since the detainees began arriving by military aircraft from Afghanistan on Jan. 11, officials said.
Maj. Cox said the trouble began Tuesday when a guard ordered a detainee to remove his turban-style headdress, which was against the rules because of concerns it could be used to conceal a weapon.
The prisoner ignored the order even after a translator repeated it, so the guard went into the cell and took the turban off the detainee's head, he said.
The camp's military commanders learned later that the prisoner had not responded because he was praying, and Islamic custom requires complete concentration on the prayer, Maj. Cox said.
But in speaking to detainees, military commanders also found an underlying current of tension over their uncertain legal situation, he said.
"They don't know what is going to happen to them. They don't know when something might happen. They don't know if something will happen to them," Maj. Cox said.
"That's the real issue; the overarching issue is just the tension associated with uncertainty, uncertainty over their future," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Pentagon would be ready soon to set up military commissions to try detainees from the Afghan conflict, but interrogations for the purpose of prosecution were just beginning and no charges had been brought.
Washington has come under criticism from human rights groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross and some European allies for refusing to treat the detainees as prisoners of war and keeping them in legal limbo.
News of Tuesday's turban incident apparently swept through the camp by word of mouth, he said.
"There were a number of individuals who chose not to eat the noon meal yesterday, some more individuals chose not to eat the evening meal yesterday, and then more than a third of the folks chose not to eat the breakfast meal this morning," he said yesterday.
The prisoners are given meals three times a day in their 8-by-8-foot cells.
Meals are designed to be appropriate for Muslims, but the menu is bland.
Breakfast is oatmeal, an orange, fresh bread and a bottle of water. Lunch may be pasta or vegetable stew, dry cereal, a box of raisins, two granola bars, a bag of chips, a bag of peanuts and a bottle of water. Dinner is usually white rice, red beans, a banana, bread and a bottle of water.
The detainees are kept separate at almost all times, but they are allowed to speak to one another through the chain-link walls of their cells.


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