Hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees apparently prefer to be force-fed vanilla Ensure.
At least that's what documents obtained exclusively by VICE News from the US military suggest. Guantanamo officials spent nearly $300,000 on 161,352 cans of liquid nutritional supplements, which detainees at the detention facility are forced to drink if they engage in hunger strikes.
Nearly half the money — $142,345 — was spent on 3,875 cases of vanilla Ensure.
The bulk purchases were made between March and May of 2013, the height of a mass hunger strike at the detention facility that attracted international attention and led to widespread condemnation of the military's force-feeding practices and treatment of detainees. Moreover, the timing of the purchases coincided with the issuance of new protocols on managing hunger strikes and force-feedings at the detention facility, when the military rebranded hunger strikes "long-term non-religious fasts," according to a set of new protocols VICE News obtained earlier this year.
The transaction reports are especially noteworthy because they show that the purchases were made during a time when military officials were publicly denying claims by the detainees' attorneys that a mass hunger strike was underway at the prison.
"There is not a mass hunger strike amongst the detainees at GTMO," Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said in March 2013. "Some detainees have attempted to coordinate a hunger strike and have refused meal deliveries, but the overwhelming majority of detainees are not participating."
However, the documents show Guantanamo officials started to stock up on hundreds of cases of the supplemental drinks that same month. The volume of the purchases coincided with reports about the increase in the number of detainees who were hunger striking.
Guantanamo spent about $86,000 on 1,442 cases of another brand of supplement called Pulmocare, which, according to the manufacturer's website, is designed specifically for "tube or oral feeding" and for people suffering from "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, or respiratory failure." The military spent about $31,500 on 618 cases of a third brand, TwoCal, "designed to meet the increased protein and calorie needs of stressed patients and patients requiring low-volume feedings," the manufacturer's website says.
If every detainee were on a hunger strike, the military would have been buying enough supplements to feed them all for a year.
This is the first time the military has ever released information about money it spent on liquid nutritional supplements. VICE News filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense to compel the release of the documents.
Detainees told their attorneys that they started hunger striking in February 2013 over what they alleged was the mishandling of their Qur'ans by military officials.
Navy Captain Tom Gresback, a Guantanamo spokesman, told VICE News last week that the military bought the liquid nutritional supplements in bulk "based on the anticipated medical requirements of the detainee population." Gresback would not discuss the volume or timing of the purchases, nor would he say how it compared with the amount of money the military spent on the supplements during the same period of time in 2012.
"Looking at a year-over-year consumption pattern does not adequately portray our mission to provide the best medical treatment plan for the detainees," Gresback said. "In any expeditionary environment, it is at the core of the supply chain discipline to ensure the basic necessities of life are always met — this is true for our detainees or our soldiers working here."
When the purchases were made, Guantanamo held 164 detainees. If every detainee were on a hunger strike, the military would have been buying enough supplements to feed them all for a year, assuming each was forced to drink four cans a day as per Guantanamo's standard operating procedures governing hunger strikes and caloric intake.
Last December, Guantanamo officials said they stopped providing the media with a daily count of the number of hunger-striking detainees who were being force-fed because the detainees had become too successful at publicizing their cause.
"It's [the strikers'] desire to draw attention to themselves, and so we're not going to help them do that," said Commander John Filostrat, a Guantanamo spokesman.
The transaction reports indicate chocolate and strawberry were tied for the second most-popular flavor of Ensure — the military bought 394 cases of each.
It also later returned 400 cases of vanilla Ensure for an $8,860 refund.
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold