By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - Lawyers for four Guantanamo prisoners are asking a U.S. federal judge to block the force-feeding of hunger strikers at the detention camp, arguing that it violates human rights and serves no military purpose.
The lawsuit was filed on Sunday night in Washington and U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer gave the government until noon (1600 GMT) on Wednesday to reply.
The U.S. military holds 166 foreign captives at the detention camp on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, and a spokesman said 106 had joined a months-long hunger strike to protest the failure to resolve their fate after more than a decade of detention.
Forty-four were being fed at least some of the time through tubes inserted into their nostrils and down into their stomachs, often while strapped down in restraint chairs.
Prisoners have described the process as painful and degrading. Their lawyers say it is "grotesque" and constitutes torture and inhumane treatment, which are banned by international law.
The lawyers asked for an expedited ruling partly because of concerns the prison staff would force-feed the Muslim detainees during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast during daylight hours. It begins on July 8.
U.S. federal judges have previously ruled they had no jurisdiction over the conditions of confinement for Guantanamo prisoners.
A Pentagon spokesman said on Monday he could not discuss pending litigation but that "the department consistently extends every reasonable religious accommodation that falls within the limits of necessary security considerations."
A spokesman for the detention camp told Reuters two weeks ago that the military planned to follow the practice used during previous Ramadans and conduct the tube-feedings at night so the hunger strikers could fast during the daytime.
The suit was filed on behalf of Algerian captives Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, Syrian prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab and Shaker Aamer, a Saudi prisoner with British residency.
All four are hunger strikers, but Aamer and Dhiab voluntarily drink enough of a liquid nutrition drink to avoid the tube-feeding, their lawyers said.
The four were rounded up during counterterrorism operations but are among the 86 prisoners cleared for release or transfer years ago. President Barack Obama has said repeatedly he wants to shut the Guantanamo detention camp, but has been unable to work out a plan to do it.
"Their detention and their force-feeding has nothing to do with military necessity," their lawyers said in court documents. "Their detention is solely a function of a political stalemate between the president and the Congress."
Defense attorney Cori Crider quoted Hadjarab as saying: "I do not want to die, but I am prepared to. ... I am doing this because I want to know my destiny, I cannot abide not knowing anymore."
(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Peter Cooney)