GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Scores of captives from the Afghan war refused meals Sunday in a protest that has lasted five days, but the U.S. military said only 13 of them had kept to the hunger strike since its start.
The military revealed the new tally after officials finished a cell-by-cell count of those who had refused food since the start of the protest on Wednesday.
The announcement coincided with a visit by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who arrived Sunday afternoon and was whisked away for a tour of the detention compound known as Camp X-ray.
"I am here on a short visit to see how the FBI is working with the other agencies here to question the detainees," Mueller told reporters.
Meanwhile, 91 of the 300 detainees at Guantanamo Bay refused breakfast and 81 declined lunch on Sunday, military officials said.
"We have 13 individuals who have not eaten at all since this hunger strike started," said Marine Capt. Joe Kloppel, a spokesman for the detention mission at this U.S. outpost in southeastern Cuba. "Others have had at least one meal since this whole thing started."
Military spokesmen had previously said at least half of those participating appeared to have been refusing food since Wednesday.
So far, at least nine detainees have been given liquids with an intravenous drip, one against his wishes.
A large group among the 300 detainees stopped eating Wednesday, some telling their captors they were upset that a guard stripped a detainee of his turban during prayers on Tuesday.
Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, commander of the detention mission, said on Saturday that while the turban issue was one cause, the detainees' underlying concern is uncertainty over their indefinite detention.
U.S. officials are determining whether and how to prosecute the men. They say those not tried by a military tribunal could be prosecuted in U.S. courts, returned to their home countries for prosecution, released outright, or held indefinitely.
"It's premature for me to discuss the timing of any charges," Mueller said before departing Sunday evening. "I know the Department of Defense is working on the procedures. My expectation is that we will see those procedures in the very near future."
The prisoners — who the U.S. military says belong to the Al Qaeda terrorist network and Afghanistan's fallen Taliban regime — are not being allowed lawyers during their interrogations.
Mueller said investigators have taken DNA samples from detainees both at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan in the event that some are eventually released. "We want to be able to identify them," he said.
The number of prisoners refusing to eat has varied by day and meal, with 85 detainees declining breakfast on Saturday, then 73 refusing lunch and 90 skipping dinner that day, officials said. The number has declined from a high of 194 who refused lunch on Thursday.
Those given fluids intravenously are evaluated and then "they retreat to their units and we have observed they have both been drinking and eating," said Navy Capt. Al Shimkus, chief medical officer at Guantanamo.
Most of those who are dehydrated agreed to treatment, he said. But one of the nine who resisted is still "being given IV without consent," Shimkus said.
The hunger strike is the first such protest since the initial group of detainees was flown to Guantanamo on Jan. 11.
It began after two military guards shackled an inmate and removed his turban during prayers Tuesday.
Lehnert later told detainees he would allow them to wear turbans but that guards had the right to inspect them at any time. In the past, turbans had been banned because of fears a prisoner could hide a dangerous object in it.
Tensions had been building at the camp even before the protest. In recent days, prisoners have been ignoring a taped call to prayer and instead have picked individual detainees to announce and lead prayers.