President Barack Obama's chief of staff was making a first known visit to the Guantanamo detention center on Friday as the prisoners' hunger strike figure rose for the first time since May 18.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disclosed the trip in a tweet apparently on his departure from Washington.
"Headed down to review the situation at Guantanamo Bay prison today" with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., he announced at 10 a.m., noting White House chief of staff Denis McDonough was aboard the flight as well.
At the White House, national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the trip was following up on Obama's May 23 speech that renewed the president's vow to empty the detention center of the last 166 detainees.
McDonough, she said, "is accompanying Senators Feinstein and McCain to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to review the situation there and discuss the steps that we can take with the Congress to meet the president's goal of closing the facility."
Also making the day trip, according to military sources, was William Lietzau, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.
The McDonough trip was believed to the first by a member of the president's inner circle since Attorney General Eric Holder visited there in February 2009.
It came on a day that the detention center disclosed a bump in the number of hunger strikers to 104 captives, 41 of whom were getting forced-feedings administered by Navy medical teams.
Four captives were getting tube feedings in the prison camps hospital, said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House said Friday morning before the delegations arrival, but "do not currently have any life-threatening conditions."
The prison spokesmen have said they do not include the 15 so-called high-value detainees, former CIA captives who got to Guantanamo in 2006, in their tally of hunger strikers and those receiving tube feedings. So the disclosure only covers those among a 151-detainee population who are protesting by refusing to eat.
Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently called upon Obama to lift his moratorium on transfer of any of the 90 or so Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, advice he adopted.
McCain, who was held prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said May 23 that he had "always advocated the closure of the prison in Guantanamo Bay for a whole variety of reasons."
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