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Guantanamo Communal Living Returns As Ramadan Begins

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Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post
Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- Just in time for Ramadan, some detainees in Guantanamo's Camp Six are being allowed to return to communal living.

Eighty-six days after an early morning raid forced detainees who had been living together in cell blocks back to their individual cells, a few dozen were granted access to their cell block on Monday, a military spokesman told The Huffington Post.

The detainees who resided in Camp Six, Guantanamo's most populated prison, had lived in a way that minimized their contact with guards, allowed them to interact with other detainees and gave them nearly constant access to an outdoor recreation field. But after detainees allegedly covered most of the cameras in the facility in April, officials placed them into lockdown in individual cells.

Prison officials said after the April 13 raid that they were planning a slow shift back to communal living, a transition that's only now beginning.

"We've allowed less than 40 to return to a communal environment, a new form of communal environment where they're in communal situation for the majority of the day," SOUTHCOM spokesman Gregory Julian told The Huffington Post. He said those detainees lived in two of Camp Six's cell blocks. Around 30 more detainees live in two other Camp Six cell blocks and are able to eat together for their fast-breaking Ramadan meal after sundown.

Julian said there was "a lot of shifting" on Monday as officials moved compliant detainees into communal pods. He said authorities didn't originally plan for the move back to communal to coincide with Ramadan but decided to move up what had been a 90-day review because the Muslim holy month was starting.

As of Tuesday, the military was tracking 106 detainees as hunger strikers, though rules allow them to occasionally skip a meal or consume less than a certain number of calories and remain on the hunger strike list. Forty-five were on the "enteral feed list," the military's term for force-feeding. During Ramadan, those force-feedings will only take place at night, but Julian said the schedule wasn't causing any problems for Guantanamo's staff.

"They've done it year after year and they were adequately staffed to manage it," Julian said. "The reality is that a lot of the detainees that are on the eternal feed list are actually drinking the supplement or even eating the meal when they are out of the sight of the other detainees."

A federal judge in D.C. on Monday refused to halt the force-feeding at Guantanamo, but pointed out that "there is an individual who has does have the authority to address the issue." He quoted President Barack Obama criticizing force-feeding during a recent national security speech.

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