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Military says all but 13 prisoners at Guantanamo have eaten since beginning of hunger protest

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) _ 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.

Military officials presented the new tally after finishing a cell-by-cell count of those who had refused food since the start of the protest Wednesday.

``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 the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba. ``Others have had at least one meal.''

Previous estimates of hard-core hunger strikers had been much higher, with spokesmen saying at least half of those participating appeared to have refused all food since Wednesday.

Among the 300 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, 91 refused breakfast and 81 declined lunch on Sunday, military officials said.

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.

Meanwhile, workers are building a more permanent detention center several miles from the temporary compound known as Camp X-ray.

Construction began on Wednesday, and Lehnert said the first 408 cells should be finished in 55 days.

The number of prisoners refusing to eat has varied by day and meal, with 85 detainees declining breakfast on Saturday, and 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.

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