Things went bad on Feb. 6. That's when troops went into Camp 6 and began a shakedown for contraband and seized a number of personal items. Prisoners soon began complaining that their Qurans had been mishandled and their treatment had suddenly worsened. Then they launched what has become the most sustained hunger strike in years at the prison.
"Zak," the Muslim cultural adviser, said troublemakers convinced other prisoners that they needed to shake things up, to flout the rules, if they wanted to get out. "They said, 'What you are doing right now is not going to teach the world about Guantanamo.' They got up and preached, and preached, and preached," he said.
The men have charged through their lawyers that guards have kept them from praying and sleeping by being noisy, denied them water, painfully strapped them down to be force-fed. The military denies those allegations specifically and any mistreatment in general.
Army Col. John Bogdan, who is in charge of the guard force, met with detainees and said he couldn't address their main complaint. "They were asking to be released from Gitmo," he said. "I can't do that."
Officials at the base this week did paint a picture of a Camp 6 that had, in the eyes of some members of the military, grown too lax: Prisoners had hoarded hundreds of bottles of water and food, made weapons out of pieces of exercise equipment and whatever else was at hand. Some threw urine or feces at guards or poked at them with broomsticks through the fence. One managed to secure a contraband iPod, which officials said could have come via a corrupt guard.
The biggest concern was that dozens of men had covered the security cameras in their cells with plastic cereal bowls, making it impossible for guards to monitor them and make sure they weren't attempting suicide, officials said.
The troops, meanwhile, did not risk entering and perhaps setting off a melee with prisoners — at least not until April 13, when commanders decided to move nearly every prisoner back to individual cells.
"We were trying to be patient and work with them and give them an opportunity to comply," Bogdan said. "We hit the point where we were accepting too much risk and it was time to take action."
The raid touched off a clash between guards and several dozen prisoners, but authorities say it lasted only a few minutes, with two guards and five prisoners suffering minor injuries.
All but a handful of the prison's 166 prisoners are now in individual cells, allowed out for only about two hours a day, returning to conditions that human rights groups previously called inhumane, especially for men who have not been convicted of a crime.
Bogdan and other officials said they will gradually allow some detainees — even those participating in the hunger strike — to return to communal living if they follow prison rules.
As of Thursday, the military counted 59 prisoners on hunger strike, including four in the detainee hospital for observation.
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