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Aug 12, 7:44 PM EDT

Judge orders exam for Guantanamo hunger striker

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MIAMI (AP) -- A federal judge ordered the military Tuesday to allow an independent medical evaluation for a hunger-striking Guantanamo prisoner who his lawyers say is in sharply declining health as a result of his protest at the U.S. base in Cuba.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler directed the government to allow Syrian prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab to be examined by experts chosen by his lawyers as soon as possible.

Dhiab has been approved for resettlement in Uruguay and could be out of Guantanamo Bay before the Sept. 15 deadline set by the judge for the expert reports.

The 43-year-old prisoner has been held without charge at Guantanamo since August 2002. He has been on a long-term hunger strike to protest his confinement and the delay in getting final approval from the U.S. government for his resettlement in Uruguay. The government of the South American country has agreed to give refugee to him and five other prisoners.

Lawyers for Dhiab warned the judge on Aug. 5 that his health had deteriorated sharply and they urgently requested an independent medical exam. They also sought testimony from U.S. military officials as part of a broader challenge to the treatment of him and other hunger striking prisoners at the U.S. base in Cuba.

The U.S. government opposed the request, arguing in court papers that his health had not deteriorated and defending the medical care he receives. In an Aug. 6 filing, officials said he weighed more than 162 pounds and was at 85 percent of his ideal body weight. Bringing in outside experts, they argued, would undermine their ability to get other prisoners to cooperate with their medical care at the detention center.

The U.S. holds 149 prisoners at Guantanamo.

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