The protest will go on until the 100 detainees "get tired of doing what they're doing," Kelly said during a news conference Tuesday, adding that, in his view, the ability to end the hunger strike is "entirely in their hands."
Kelly, who just returned from a weekend trip to the Guantanamo Bay facility, commented about the hunger strike Tuesday during a news conference after a celebration of the 50th anniversary of creating the Southern Command headquarters, first in Panama and now in Doral, Fla., The Miami Herald reported.
As of Tuesday, the prison staff reported 103 detainees were participating in the hunger strike at the U.S. Navy base and 38 of the strikers were getting tube feedings from Navy medical workers.
Kelly expressed displeasure with the description by President Barack Obama and others that the military was force-feeding the inmates.
Hunger strikers who are below a specific body weight are taken twice a day to a feeding chair and given a choice of eating or having a tube inserted into their noses and throats so a can of Ensure can be pumped inside, the Herald said.
"They're all eating something," Kelly said. "We don't force-feed right now at Gitmo."
Defense lawyer Carlos Warner, who represents several strikers, said the hunger strikers want their freedom but their demands were more modest.
They want "a dialogue about the Koran," Warner told the Herald, as well as to be allowed "to live communally and get back their items, like family photos."
Warner and other defense attorneys said the hunger strike began after guards went through the inmates' cells in February at Camp 6, the facility's largest prison building where captives used to live communally. Detainees said the soldiers disrespected the holy book and seized intimate personal property, while prison officials said contraband, including weapons, was seized and the Koran was treated respectfully.