A group of detainees kneels during early morning prayer in the camp at the US military prison for "enemy combatants" on Oct. 28, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Credit: John Moore

The US military has sent extra medical staff to Guantanamo Bay to handle an ongoing hunger strike by about two-thirds of the prison's detainees.  

As the strike begins its 12th week, more and more detainees have joined, with now 100 refusing food, and 21 being force-fed though life-sustaining tubes.

The situation caused the US to send about 40 Navy nurses and specialists, said Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House, a military spokesman at Guantanamo. 

"The influx of personnel was planned several weeks ago as increasing numbers of detainees chose to protest their detention," House said.

The striking prisoners are protesting their imprisonment without trial at Guantanamo, a military facility that has drawn much controversy in the 11 years since it has been used to house suspected terrorists in the "War on Terror." 

"The illegal detentions without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay have gone on for more than a decade with no end in sight, so it's not surprising that detainees feel desperate," said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch.

Last week, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, sent a letter to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, repeating the groups position that it is a violation of medical ethics to force-feed men and women who refuse food or other medical treatment. 

And while the letter, according to Reuters, did not demand Hagel stop the force-feedings, it did ask him "to address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession."

"I can tell you that we will not allow detainees to harm themselves, and this includes attempts at suicide - including self-induced and peer-pressured starvation to death," said Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseal.

President Obama on Tuesday backed the military's force-feeding, saying "I don't want these individuals to die."

Obama then took up the case for closing the military prison. "It's not sustainable - I mean, the notion that we're going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man's land in perpetuity," he told a White House news conference.

Obama listed some of his reasons: 

"Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."

Having spoken with advisers, Obama said he had asked them to find a solution, adding, "I'm going to go back at this."

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