The continuing abuse of Guantanamo prisoners

It seems like each passing day we hear worse news from Guantanamo where flagrant violations of simple decency, let alone legal rights, are practiced routinely. Waterboarding may have ended but prisoner abuse continues unabated. Now the New York Times has published on its op-ed pages on April 15, 2013 a heart-wrenching piece by Guantanamo detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel titled Gitmo is killing me. Moqbel has been held there for over eleven years without charges or trial and is now on a hunger strike and is being force-fed by guards. His description of his treatment (delivered verbally and transcribed) is horrific.

One man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.

It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the ”food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.

When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.

The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

Even the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, comprising solidly establishment bipartisan figures that I wrote about earlier, said in in its Finding #16 that “Forced feeding of prisoners is a form of abuse and must end.”

There is absolutely no reason to continue holding people like Moqbel. As Glenn Greenwald says,

More than half of the remaining 166 detainees at the camp are Yemeni. Dozens of those Yemenis (along with dozens of other detainees) have long ago been cleared for release by the US government on the ground that there is no evidence to believe they are a threat to anyone. A total of 87 of the remaining detainees – roughly half – have been cleared for release, of which 58 are Yemeni.

Not even the US government at this point claims they are guilty or pose a threat to anyone.

The Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, normally a US ally, has delivered a broadside, rightly condemning the US for its blatant hypocrisy.

“We believe that keeping someone in prison for over 10 years without due process is clear-cut tyranny,” Hadi said in a recent interview broadcast over the Arabic language channel of Russia Today. “The United States is fond of talking democracy and human rights. But when we were discussing the prisoner issue with the American attorney general, he had nothing to say.”

Even though the US government has cleared the Yemenis for release and the Yemeni government is even willing to take them, people like Mogbel are still being held and abused. As far as I can tell, the only reason they are still being held is because of the sheer bloody-mindedness of president Obama and the US Congress. They have so stoked fears of terrorist boogeymen waiting to slit our throats while we sleep that releasing Guantanamo detainees has become politically unthinkable. So these people suffer dreadfully at our hands because of our cowardliness.

I am no longer surprised at how low the US can sink when it comes to basic human rights.


  1. says

    Is force-feeding considered torture?

    I know the Obama administration has already acted to protect torturers, but it sounds like they’re spinning up their own generation of criminals. I suppose whoever comes in as the next president will grant retroactive immunity. History won’t.

  2. CaitieCat says

    And the worst of it is, how many new terrorists has the US created by its insistence on a ridiculous and illegal scheme of holding innocent people without charge for years on end?

    I mean, if Mr. Moqbel was your uncle, or cousin, or brother, wouldn’t you be on a major hate for the US by now?

    Guantanamo is an obscenity. I am ashamed to live on the same continent with people who could make and defend such a place as necessary.

  3. says

    The NYT piece states that Moqbel “told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.” Being unfamiliar with Reprieve, it was interesting to learn about its founder, Clive Stafford Smith. That bio says he sued for access to detainees, but does anyone know the name of the case? I can’t find info on it.

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