Gitmo hunger striker to receive medical evaluation

A Guantanamo prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for more than five years is being granted his request to be seen by independent medical experts who will evaluate his physical and mental status and provide treatment.

A Washington court ruling released Wednesday says Abdul Rahman Shalabi of Saudi Arabia demonstrated that his health had led to canceled meetings with his attorneys and jeopardized his ability to receive legal assistance.

However, the court denied Shalabi's request that the medical experts travel to Guantanamo every six months for follow-up evaluations, saying it is unknown what his health will be like at that time.

Shalabi's lawyer, Jana Ramsey, told The Associated Press that she did not know when the specialists would go to Guantanamo. She declined further comment.

The court said the physicians could work with Guantanamo's medical staff to create a treatment plan for Shalabi, who was part of a group that started a hunger strike in August 2005 to protest conditions and indefinite confinement.

Shalabi, who is 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 meters) tall, has seen his weight drop to roughly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) from 124 pounds (56 kilograms).

He is fed with a liquid nutrient mix through a nasal tube twice a day and is considered a hunger striker although he sporadically eats solid food, including cookies, seafood, cheese and ice cream, according to court records.

Shalabi has said that severe stomach pain and other problems remain undiagnosed and that he does not trust Guantanamo's medical staff. He threatened to reject advice regarding diet changes and medical procedures if the doctors he requested were not allowed to evaluate him.

Shalabi has been hospitalized for 18 months and required emergency intervention at least three times, according to the court's ruling.

"Because of the petitioner's hunger strike and consequent medical complications, this court has been forced to intervene on several occasions to ensure that the petitioner's health does not deteriorate to the point where his right to counsel is endangered," the ruling said.

The U.S. military has said that Shalabi is in no immediate danger and that he is receiving sufficient medical care. It opposed the request to bring in any outside medical consultants.

Guantanamo officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the ruling, nor did officials with the civil liberty group Physicians for Human Rights.

Shalabi is suspected of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and has been held at Guantanamo since January 2002, after Pakistani troops captured him at the Afghanistan border.

He has denied any ties with al-Qaida. His lawyers have asked that he be returned to Saudi Arabia.

Shalabi is one of about 174 prisoners now held at Guantanamo.