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Guards, detainees clash in pre-dawn raid at Guantanamo

U.S. military guards raided the largest camp at Guantanamo Bay early Saturday and fired four non-lethal shots as they moved detainees into solitary cells to suppress a widening protest, military officials said in a statement. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

U.S. military guards raided the largest camp at Guantanamo Bay early Saturday morning and fired four non-lethal shots as they moved detainees into solitary cells to suppress a widening protest, military officials said in a statement.

The unusual pre-dawn raid, ordered by Cmdr. Rear Adm. John W. Smith, was prompted by detainees' efforts to cover surveillance cameras, windows and glass partitions -- blocking views by guards -- amid an ongoing hunger strike that has now spread to more than 40 detainees and required officials to order some prisoners to be force fed through tubes.   

During the raid, "some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired. There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees," according to the statement released by the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.

Carlos Warner, a lawyer who represents detainees, said in an email to NBC News the raid was "a major event" and accused military officials of "escalating the conflict."


Warner also said the military timed the raid just after an International Red Cross delegation left the facility.

“They are doing exactly what they shouldn't be doing - provoking men who have nothing to lose and who are ready to die. These actions will drive the men closer to death, so yes the situation is rapidly deteriorating,” he added.

A White House spokesperson said: "We have been monitoring the situation at Guantanamo closely and were informed by DOD in advance of the Task Force's plan to transition detainees at Camp VI from communal to single-cell living to ensure their health and security."

In recent weeks, as the hunger strike has spread among detainees, human rights groups have called on the Obama administration to fulfill its promise to shut down Guantanamo and step  up its efforts to return detainees who have been cleared for release to their home countries.

Lawyers for the detainees said they have been told of detainees losing consciousness and coughing up blood due to the hunger strike.

The Saturday morning raid occurred in Camp VI -- the largest at Guantanamo -- where detainees deemed "compliant" live in communal areas and are given special privileges. But military officials said that, in order to "reestablish proper observation" of the detainees, military forces began moving the detainees back into "single cell" confinement, triggering the resistance that led them to fire shots. Officials have said in the past that guards are equipped with rubber bullets.

Last month, U.S. military officials denied any detainees' lives were in danger but acknowledged that resistance and frustration among the detainees is growing, a development that a senior general said is because they are “devastated” that President Barack Obama’s pledge to shut down the facility has not been fulfilled.

White House officials say they remain committed to closing Guantanamo but have been blocked from doing so by Congress, leading officials to close the small State Department office charged with finding new homes for the detainees.

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