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Canadian teen in Guantanamo on hunger strike, lawyers say

Canadian teenager Omar Khadr went on a hunger strike in July at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has grown up to become the spiritual leader of his cellblock, his U.S. lawyers say.

New documents written by the lawyers say the 18-year-old terrorism suspect and dozens of fellow detainees were put in hospital as a precaution after they began a mass hunger strike to protest against conditions at the notorious detention camp.

"It's destroying us slowly," Mr. Khadr told one of his lawyers, according to documents filed in court as part of his bid to get out of the legal limbo he has been in at the prison.

The U.S. military has said that 50 prisoners stopped eating in late June, but U.S. civil-rights lawyers estimate that as many as 200 detainees -- or nearly half the current prison population -- have taken part in the protest.

Among them is Mr. Khadr, who is starving himself "to protest the military's disrespect of Islam," according to the documents written by U.S. lawyers who visited him in July.

A decade ago, Mr. Khadr's father staged a hunger strike when he was jailed in Pakistan on suspicion of financing a deadly al-Qaeda-style bombing.

At the time, Ahmed Said Khadr invited reporters to meet his children and come to his hospital bedside. Through media reports, the charity worker from Ottawa implored then-prime-minister Jean Chrétien to intervene for him during a Team Canada trade mission to Pakistan.

Mr. Chrétien did intervene, and Mr. Khadr was let go and returned with his family to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. They fled that country after the 2001 U.S. invasion.

The elder Mr. Khadr was killed by the Pakistani army. Omar, his favourite son, was shot three times in an Afghan gun battle after allegedly throwing a lethal grenade at a U.S. soldier.

He was 15 at the time. Since then, the younger Mr. Khadr has been in Guantanamo Bay, but has never been formally charged with any crime.

In the past year, U.S. civil-rights lawyers have been allowed to visit him. He has told them that he has suffered abuse, and his complaints are less about physical abuse than his freedom to practise Islam.

"O.K. states that he has been leading prayers in his cell block (approximately 7-8 people). During prayers, guards turn on fans, turn up the radio and whistle," the legal documents say.

Mr. Khadr further complains that the U.S. military routinely broadcasts a woman's voice when the Muslim call to prayer sounds out. He is also angered that the call sounds only four times a day, and not the standard five.

"O.K. was on hunger strike for 15 days, starting on July 2, 2005. He took water but no food. During this time, he was taken to the hospital twice and given IV fluids," say documents released by his legal team.

Mr. Khadr complained that he was too dizzy to walk away after being released from the hospital, causing him to sit down along the way. Guards, he says, kicked him 10 times before carrying him back to his cell. He eventually returned to hospital for a few days.

"I believe it's a combination of frustrations, which includes a lack of due process month after month, year after year," said Dennis Edney, Mr. Khadr's Edmonton-based lawyer. He said the teenager is still fasting, but the Pentagon has said that many detainees are eating again.

The documents say that U.S. guards cut off air conditioning in Mr. Khadr's cellblock after the hunger strike began.

The documents say the teenager, who is more savvy about Western ways than many detainees, is raising concerns about the prisoners who still don't have lawyers.

Plus "another detainee had his prosthetic foot taken away from him, and is on hunger strike to get it back," according to Mr. Khadr's filings.

Hunger strikes are not unique to Guantanamo Bay. Two Canadian Muslims detained by Ottawa have also been fasting this summer to protest against the fact that they have been jailed for the past four years under national-security laws as Ottawa tries to deport them.

An emergency rally is planned today in Ottawa for Hassan Almrei -- a Syrian terrorism suspect who has been fasting for 70 days and is at "imminent risk of permanent, severe impairment and, very possibly, of death," according to organizers of the rally.

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