Guantanamo Hunger Striker Losing Weight

By: Ben Fox - AP Writer
By: Ben Fox - AP Writer

A Guantanamo prisoner who has been on hunger strike for more than four years is in critical danger from malnutrition, his lawyers said Tuesday. U.S. officials insist his weight loss is not an immediate health risk.

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who is fed liquid nutrients through a
nasal tube, recently weighed 107 pounds (49 kilograms), or 71
percent of the ideal body weight identified by medical authorities
at the U.S. base in Cuba, his lawyers said in court papers filed
this week in federal court in Washington.

"He's two pounds away from organ failure and death," attorney
Julia Tarver Mason said in an interview.

Prison authorities say the situation is less severe, though they
confirm the 33-year-old Saudi has lost weight.

Navy Capt. David Wright, a doctor who is the prison's chief
medical officer, confirmed in an affidavit submitted to the court
that Shalabi's weight had dropped to 107 pounds (49 kilograms) from
134 pounds (61 kilograms) in May and said military authorities were
closely monitoring his health.

Shalabi's "weight loss is concerning and if it continues, it
would eventually be problematic," Wright said.

He said the prisoner's weight has fallen because he has refused
to take more than 1,660 calories of liquid nutrients per day.

In a separate filing, lawyers for the government say that if
Shalabi's weight drops below 105 pounds (48 kilograms), the medical
staff would "intercede and increase his calorie intake."

A spokesperson for the prison did not immediately respond
Tuesday to questions about Shalabi's current weight.

The lawyers have asked a judge to issue an emergency order for
an independent medical specialist to be sent to the U.S. base to
evaluate Shalabi and help develop a feeding plan that would restore
his weight. U.S. officials insist he is getting adequate treatment
and no expert is needed.

Thirty prisoners were on hunger strike at Guantanamo as recently
as last week, but Shalabi has been refusing meals longer than any
of them.

He was part of the original group that started a hunger strike
in August 2005 as a protest against conditions and indefinite
confinement. The protest eventually dwindled to just two men as
prison officials, worried that strikers might starve to death,
began strapping them down and feeding them by force. The other
long-term striker, also a Saudi, was released in June.

Shalabi has been held at Guantanamo since January 2002 following
his capture by Pakistani troops at the Afghanistan border.

The U.S. government says in court papers that the prisoner, who
comes from a wealthy Saudi family, is suspected of being a
bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, but he has not been charged. He
denies any affiliation with al-Qaida and his attorneys have been
asking a court to return him to his country.

When he came to Guantanamo, the prisoner, who is 5 feet 6 inches
(1.68 meters) tall, weighed 134 pounds (61 kilograms) - or 89
percent of his ideal body weight.

His lawyers say that to avoid the pain of inserting and
reinserting the feeding tube, authorities have agreed to leave it
in for three days at a time and allow him to go without the liquid
nutrients for the fourth day - a feeding plan that his attorneys
cite as a factor in his weight loss.

Dr. Sondra Crosby, a Boston-based specialist in internal
medicine who has examined Shalabi as consultant for the defense,
said there are other potential causes for his weight loss that
include hyperthyroidism, cancer or some type of infection.

"It is uncontested that Mr. Shalabi needs to be fed more
calories, otherwise he will die," Crosby, a professor at the
Boston University School of Medicine, said in an affidavit with the
court.


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