A Growing Threat at Guantanamo? Detainees Fatten Up

ByMichael Melia

Oct. 3, 2006 — -- SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Fueled by a high-calorie diet,detainees at Guantanamo Bay are becoming fat.

Most of the prisoners arrived at the military prison insoutheast Cuba slightly underweight but have since gained anaverage of 20 pounds (9 kilograms), and most are now "normal tomildly overweight or mildly obese," Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand,spokesman for the detention facilities, said Monday.

One detainee's weight has almost doubled to 410 pounds (186kilograms), Durand said.

U.S. officials assess whether detainees are overweight bycalculating their body-mass index, a measurement of weight inrelation to height.

Human rights groups attribute the weight gain to lack ofmobility in the detainees' small cells. They also cited accounts ofreleased detainees who said they were at times allowed to exercisefewer than three times a week.

The detainees' meals total a whopping 4,200 calories per day.U.S. government dietary guidelines for weight maintenance recommend2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

Inmates at U.S. federal prisons receive about 2,900 calories aday, said Michael Truman, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau ofPrisons, who added that weight gain is studied only where it posesa health risk, though it does not appear widespread.

"Most of them keep themselves in pretty good shape," he said.

Durand said detainees are served a wide variety of food andexpected to choose what appeals to them.

"The detainees are advised that they are offered more food thannecessary to provide choice and variety, and that consuming all thefood they are offered will result in weight gain," he said.

About 460 detainees are currently at Guantanamo, including someheld for more than four years on suspicion of links to al-Qaida andthe Taliban.

The meals include meats prepared according to Islamicguidelines, fresh bread and yogurt. With nearly all detaineesfasting in the daytime during Ramadan, authorities have arrangedfor two separate meals - a post-sunset meal and a midnight meal -to be delivered after dark. Traditional desserts and honey areserved during the Ramadan observances.

Guantanamo's heaviest detainee, at 410 pounds (186 kilograms),arrived in 2002 weighing 215 pounds (98 kilograms), Durand said.His identity was not disclosed.

Durand said all prisoners, including those held atmaximum-security Camp 5, are allowed at least two hours of dailyrecreation - the minimum called for by the International Committeeof the Red Cross. However, reporters who visited Camp 5 last monthwere told that the exercise time had been reduced to one hour afterthe suicides of three detainees in June.

During the September visit, a "high-value" detainee could beseen walking in circles around a 10-by-18-foot fenced-in"recreation yard."

The exercise time has since been increased to 90 minutes, thecommander of the camp guards said, and there were plans to restorethe two-hour exercise periods.

The most compliant detainees receive up to 12 hours of exercisetime and have access to treadmills, stationary bikes and otherexercise equipment, Durand said.

The conflicting accounts of prisoners' exercise time highlight aneed for neutral monitors to examine conditions at the prison andreport their findings, said Curt Goering, of Amnesty InternationalUSA.

"The army says one thing, camp commanders say one thing, andthen there's this other information available," he said. "It'sreally important that someone independent makes that assessment."

A delegation from the International Committee of the Red Crossarrived at the prison last week for interviews with detainees. Thehumanitarian organization, which does not publicly release somefindings as a condition of its access to prisoners, was hoping toget a first glimpse of 14 top alleged al-Qaida figures and otherterror suspects previously locked up in CIA secret prisons.

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