WASHINGTON — On Wednesday morning, the Pentagon confirmed that 28 Guantanamo detainees are participating in a hunger strike, and at least 10 prisoners are being kept alive by feeding tubes—a development the White House is citing as evidence of the government’s ability to effectively promote weight loss. The hunger strike, which has gained momentum since five or six detainees began it in February, is meant as a demonstration against Obama’s failure to close the facility or to free any of the 80-plus prisoners who have legally been cleared for release. But the White House has welcomed the strike, and views it as a blueprint for future, domestic weight-loss initiatives.
While the obesity epidemic was never really a problem in the nation’s highest-security offshore prison camp, it is a major issue among the general population. Guantanamo detainees are typically fed a very regulated diet of prepared food rations, while most Americans enjoy unlimited quantities of immediately available preserved food and sugary drinks. Authorities, though, are beginning to think similar programs could promote weight loss amongst both groups with equal effectiveness.
“Most participating prisoners have lost at least 30 pounds,” said Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer for several of the detainees. “While the Pentagon only admits to the existence 28 hunger strike participants, anyone down here will tell you that over 100 prisoners are now taking part. Clearly, something needs to change.”
“These are better numbers than we’ve ever seen,” said President Obama in a speech on federal public health programs. “I think we may have found the kind of change this country needs – healthy, rapid, inescapable change that is literally dependent on being force-fed by the government.”
The Obama administration, which has been much maligned for its failure to close Guantanamo Bay, is now seeing salvation in the possibility of expanding detention facility-like diet programs. Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban may have failed, but new initiatives, if running on the Gitmo model, would require no legal foundation whatsoever and could be implemented immediately by the military. Reports are in that the CIA and FDA are already coordinating a new “Starve Our Students” subsidized school lunch program, and other efforts are soon to follow.
In the meantime, officials do not seem overly concerned with the detainees’ hunger strike. “Guantanamo Bay?” joked Vice President Biden, “more like Gaunt- anamo Bay, am I right?”