This has been a disturbing week for British resident and Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who endured two and a half years of torture at the hands of Pakistani agents, the CIA, and the United States’ proxy torturers in Morocco, before being transferred to Guantánamo in September 2004.
Last Friday, it was revealed that he was to face a trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo — the “terror courts” invented by Dick Cheney and his advisers in November 2001, which are empowered to conceal classified information from the defendants and, at the judge’s discretion, to accept “evidence” obtained through coercion. This is, of course, particularly worrying in Binyam’s case, as every shred of the so-called evidence against him appears to have been extracted through torture, and would be inadmissible in a courtroom on the US mainland.
There was some brighter news for Binyam on Tuesday, when a judge, Mr. Justice Saunders, responded positively to his lawyers’ request for a judicial review, which, they hope, will require the British government to drop its claim that it is “under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted” and that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by Binyam’s lawyers. His lawyers also hope that a favourable decision in the judicial review will compel the government to reveal whatever information it has regarding British knowledge of Binyam’s rendition to torture in Morocco, and information regarding his life in London, which, Binyam says, was presented to him by his Moroccan torturers.
Today, however, the Independent reports that Binyam is so distressed by the announcement of the charges against him that he has embarked on a hunger strike. In a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband, his lawyers at Reprieve, the legal action charity that provides legal assistance to over 30 Guantánamo prisoners, explain that Binyam “began not eating food on May 2, 2008, when he was 146 lbs (10 stone 6 lbs),” but that this went unnoticed, because “the US military does not count it as a ‘hunger strike’ if the prisoner does not actually refuse the tray.” On May 18, therefore, when his weight had already dropped to 128 lbs (9 stone 2 lbs), Binyam began refusing the trays.
Binyam stopped his strike temporarily, when Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, and Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, his military lawyer, persuaded him to eat during the three days of their visit, but announced that he would resume on May 24. Stafford Smith explained, “Under the illegal procedures used by the US military in Guantánamo … they will consider him a ‘hunger striker’ and start force-feeding him when he reaches about 120 lbs (8 stone 8 lbs).” Stafford Smith thought that this might be on June 4 or 5.
From almost the moment that Guantánamo opened, in January 2002, hunger strikes have been used by the prisoners as the only way to protest the lawless conditions of their confinement — held without charge, with no family contact, with little or no social interaction, and with no inkling of when, if ever, their imprisonment will come to an end.
Persistent hunger strikers, however, are made to suffer even more, and are punished by being force-fed, a procedure that is monstrously cruel. Prisoners are strapped into a restraint chair using 16 separate straps — three across the head alone — and fed, twice a day, through a tube that is inserted into the stomach through the nose.
As well as being shockingly painful — and frequently unhygienic, as the tubes are not always cleaned after each use — force-feeding is also illegal, as the World Medical Association made clear in its Declaration of Tokyo in 1975: “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”
The US administration ignores this requirement, as it is unwilling to let prisoners secure what it would regard as a PR victory if they starved themselves to death. Perhaps as a result, four long-term hunger strikers — three in June 2006, and another last May — took the only other action that was available to them, and committed suicide.
Binyam has not yet reached this state of desperation — although in a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on May 22, he wrote, “I have been next to committing suicide this past while. That would be one way to end it, I suppose.” Nevertheless, as Clive Stafford Smith points out, “The need for humanitarian intervention on behalf of Mr. Mohamed grows ever more urgent. Because no US court will hear his case, I am powerless to secure him the humane treatment that he needs. The British government is not powerless. It is crucial that this be top of the government’s agenda.”
Andy is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), Guantánamo: al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj fears that he will die (September 2007), The long suffering of Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian teenager sent home from Guantánamo (October 2007), Guantánamo suicides: so who’s telling the truth? (October 2007), Innocents and Foot Soldiers: The Stories of the 14 Saudis Just Released From Guantánamo (Yousef al-Shehri and Murtadha Makram) (November 2007), A letter from Guantánamo (by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj) (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide (May 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), Seven Years Of Guantánamo, And A Call For Justice At Bagram (January 2009), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home (March 2009). Also see the following online chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 2 (Ahmed Kuman, Mohammed Haidel), Website Extras 3 (Abdullah al-Yafi, Abdul Rahman Shalabi), Website Extras 4 (Bakri al-Samiri, Murtadha Makram), Website Extras 5 (Ali Mohsen Salih, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih).
[...] Binyam is so distressed by the announcement of the charges against him that he has embarked on a hunger strike. [...]
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