A Growing Threat at Guantanamo? Detainees Fatten Up

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 in southeast Cuba slightly underweight but have since gained an average of 20 pounds (9 kilograms), and most are now "normal to mildly 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 (186 kilograms), Durand said.

U.S. officials assess whether detainees are overweight by calculating their body-mass index, a measurement of weight in relation to height.

Human rights groups attribute the weight gain to lack of mobility in the detainees' small cells. They also cited accounts of released detainees who said they were at times allowed to exercise fewer than three times a week.

The detainees' meals total a whopping 4,200 calories per day. U.S. government dietary guidelines for weight maintenance recommend 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

Inmates at U.S. federal prisons receive about 2,900 calories a day, said Michael Truman, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, who added that weight gain is studied only where it poses a 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 and expected to choose what appeals to them.

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

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

The meals include meats prepared according to Islamic guidelines, fresh bread and yogurt. With nearly all detainees fasting in the daytime during Ramadan, authorities have arranged for two separate meals - a post-sunset meal and a midnight meal - to be delivered after dark. Traditional desserts and honey are served 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 at maximum-security Camp 5, are allowed at least two hours of daily recreation - the minimum called for by the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, reporters who visited Camp 5 last month were told that the exercise time had been reduced to one hour after the suicides of three detainees in June.

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

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

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

The conflicting accounts of prisoners' exercise time highlight a need for neutral monitors to examine conditions at the prison and report their findings, said Curt Goering, of Amnesty International USA.

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

A delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived at the prison last week for interviews with detainees. The humanitarian organization, which does not publicly release some findings as a condition of its access to prisoners, was hoping to get a first glimpse of 14 top alleged al-Qaida figures and other terror suspects previously locked up in CIA secret prisons.