“Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation” is a report I’ve compiled for Cageprisoners analyzing the weight records for prisoners at Guantánamo (released by the Pentagon in March 2007), which demonstrate that, from January 2002, when the prison opened, until February 2007, when these particular records came to an end, one in ten of the total population — 80 prisoners in total — weighed, at some point, less than 112 pounds (eight stone, or 50 kg), and 20 of these prisoners weighed less than 98 pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg).
The report is available here (as a PDF):
Guantanamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics Of Starvation
The following is the introduction to the report:
Today is the third anniversary of the deaths in Guantánamo of three prisoners, Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani. The anniversary comes just two weeks after the second anniversary of the death of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, the fourth prisoner to die in mysterious circumstances, and just eight days after the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih. The authorities maintain that the men died by committing suicide, although doubts about this explanation have repeatedly been voiced by former prisoners. However, it is also significant that all five men were long-term hunger strikers.
Cageprisoners is marking this sad anniversary with a brief report about the Guantánamo hunger strikers, and the dreadful toll that prolonged starvation — and brutal force-feeding, which is the response of the US military — exacts on prisoners held, for the most part, without charge or trial in a seemingly endless legal limbo. Force-feeding involves prisoners being strapped into a restraint chair and force-fed twice daily against their will, through an agonizing process that involves having a tube inserted into the stomach through the nose.
As Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer for several dozen Guantánamo prisoners, explained in the Los Angeles Times in 2007, with reference to Sami al-Haj, who was released in May 2008, “Medical ethics tell us that you cannot force-feed a mentally competent hunger striker, as he has the right to complain about his mistreatment, even unto death. But the Pentagon knows that a prisoner starving himself to death would be abysmal PR, so they force-feed Sami. As if that were not enough, when Gen. Bantz J. Craddock headed up the US Southern Command, he announced that soldiers had started making hunger strikes less ‘convenient.’ Rather than leave a feeding tube in place, they insert and remove it twice a day.”
Statistics can be deceiving, of course, but three months ago, when Ramzi Kassem, the lawyer for Ahmed Zuhair, one of Guantánamo’s most persistent hunger strikers, came back from a recent visit to the prison, he estimated that Zuhair weighed no more than 100 pounds, and “also appeared to be ill, vomiting repeatedly during meetings” at the prison. “Mr. Zuhair lifted his orange shirt and showed me his chest,” Kassem explained. “It was skeletal.“ He added, “Mr. Zuhair’s legs looked like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.”
While this is disturbingly thin, given that an average, healthy man weights between 150 and 200 pounds, Cageprisoners’ latest report only confirms that it is typical of the skeletal state of Guantánamo’s long-term hunger strikers.
In March 2007, the Pentagon released a series of documents, “Measurements of Heights and Weights of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” which recorded, in numbing detail, the prisoners’ weights, from the date of their arrival and, in general, at monthly intervals thereafter until December 2006, when these particular records come to an end. In the cases of prisoners on hunger strike, the weights were recorded at weekly intervals, and, in some cases, on a daily basis.
Unnoticed at the time of their release, these documents have not, until now, been analyzed in depth, but after conducting a comprehensive review of the documents I can reveal that the results demonstrate the extent to which the Pentagon’s prohibition on releasing any photos of the prisoners has enabled it to disguise a truly shocking fact: throughout Guantánamo’s history, one in ten of the total population — 80 prisoners in total — weighed, at some point, less than 112 pounds (eight stone, or 50 kg), and 20 of these prisoners weighed less than 98 pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg).
If photos of these prisoners had been made available, it is, I believe, no understatement to say that calls for Guantánamo’s closure would have been much more strident than they have been, and as dozens of prisoners are still on hunger strike, the fear is that, unless President Obama steps up his efforts to close Guantánamo before his January 2010 deadline, more will follow.
10 June 2009
Andy Worthington 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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes and deaths at Guantánamo, see Suicide at Guantánamo: the story of Abdul Rahman al-Amri (May 2007), Suicide at Guantánamo: a response to the US military’s allegations that Abdul Rahman al-Amri was a member of al-Qaeda (May 2007), 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), Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges (June 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo (November 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), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Forgotten: The Second Anniversary Of A Guantánamo Suicide (May 2009), Yemeni Prisoner Muhammad Salih Dies At Guantánamo (June 2009), Death At Guantánamo Hovers Over Obama’s Middle East Visit (June 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).
My client Al-Ghizzawi told me that they are always weighed with shackles to add to their weight.
Thanks for that. Sami al-Haj said much the same thing:
Our criminal regime in Gitmo has defiled our American flag with the blood of torture victims, who may well be innocent goat herders for all we know!!!
Great piece. One thing we have wondered but haven’t been able to find out is what the men weighed before being taken into custody. As I see it, there are several varaibles that probably make these statistics even more horrifying:
- many men were held for a period of time at Kandahar and other sites in Afghanistan before being flown to Guantanamo. We know from more than one of our clients that they were abused and denied food in those locations. One client (who is on the list) was there for about 5 weeks.
- many of the men were living in desperate conditions before being taken into custody by the U.S. or by Pakistani bounty hunters or police.
- some men were held in jails in Pakistan before being turned over to the U.S.
- some men were injured and were recovering in hospitals when they were arrested.
What these facts suggest is that many of the men were likely already in poor physical shape before arriving in Guantanamo. We believe that one of our clients may have weighed at least 20 pounds less than his normal weight when he arrived.
Remember Neocon Duncan Lee Hunter raving about how great the food was down there?
Federal Reserve liars
So, imagine a photograph of ‘Gitmo’ prisoners grouped at the fence, staring out at the camera. Holocaust?
Our leaders ancestors funded the rise of facism, seem comfortable maintaining it’s horrible legacy.
Hi Wake-up Sheeple,
Actually you’re spot-on in your analysis. Some of the Afghans, who were allowed to return home after only a few years in Guantanamo, were indeed innocent goat herders!
Great to hear from you, and thanks for pointing out something that I really shouldn’t have missed — although I hope it can be inferred from the weights on arrival in the report — which is, of course, that many of the men had been half-starved before they even arrived at Guantanamo, and many were ill, suffering from dysentery and other illnesses.
This from Jeff Kaye:
That’s amazing. It’s shocking the degree to which they have used starvation as part of the DDD torture. I noted the starvation aspect in an article only a little while back. I don’t know if you saw it: Torture: What’s in a Name? It Was Never Just “Sleep Deprivation”
I’ll see that your work on this gets around.
Thanks, Jeff. I did see that article, though only briefly, I think, as that was when the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s death broke:
Just a month ago? My, these new boys are keeping us busy, eh?
I want to see criminal prosecution for CIA Lawyer John Rizzo name on what is known as the United States Torture Program. That in itself violates International Treaty.
Thank Goodness for CCR Justice- and the ACLU as well as other lawyers…. This is the worse acts in American Modern History.
Expel and Expose
Shame Shame The State of Texas for the men who hold criminal culpabilty
I am still not clear on how invading iraq is anything other than pure killing for $$$$ The military industrial complex must have scapegoats for the culture of perpetual warfare…. 200 billion a year…. send the little boys home already you have your war… now let them GO! Funny how the likes of bundy and manson get decent meals… they have killed more americans than these people. If they were free however, they might speak, and if they speak we might believe them… as buckaroo bonzai (the greatest hero of all movie time) would say “don’t tug on that you never know what it might be attached to….”
The liquid dietary supplement was documented in the “torture” memos, and it was below minimum daily caloric intake levels. Whether in fact that was used beyond the interrogation stage is unknown. If the individuals that went on hunger strikes were fed this same supplement, then it is no wonder that they continued to loose weight.
The multiple insertion of a feeding tube may in and of itself is not torture, but if this was not performed by medically trained individuals, harm can be inflicted, especially when the “patient” is resisting!
I received the following message from Ahmed Errachidi, a former Guantánamo prisoner, who is currently writing a book about his experiences:
Thanks very much as always. I would like to call it “torture feeding” in the hunger strike that started in August 2005. I have spoken to Colonel Mike Bumgarner [then the warden of Guantánamo] twice in two meetings when the weight of some detainees dropped below 50 kilos and I urged him to give me the chance to stop the hunger strike peacefully by allowing me talk to detainees whom I was confident that they will listen to me, but the colonel refused because he had orders to end the hunger strike by torture feeding. It is during that time where a curfew and zero tolerance was forced on Camp 2/3.
The surprise is that the Pentagon has needed the services of an Arab man. Now this man showed up in the camp for the first time and he asked to talk to me in private, then he represented himself to me as a “cultural representative” in Guantánamo — such a post never heard of it before in Guantánamo. This man’s job was to show the US army how the Arabs should be treated in prisons. He was their torture guide.
Regarding the 3 deaths, 2 of them were with me in Oscar block [an isolation block] and we all had a taste of [the Arab man’s] treatment only 2 weeks before their death and I did not forget about them. I am writing a chapter dedicated to the 3 men and explaining what went wrong.
Note: I first reported Ahmed’s story in my book, and then again here:
And it is always a pleasure to hear from you, Ahmed.
Thanks for pointing out that “The liquid dietary supplement was documented in the ‘torture’ memos, and it was below minimum daily caloric intake levels.”
I mentioned this in an article about the torture memos written by Bradbury, noting that “We are, for example, breezily told that caloric intake ‘will always be set at or above 1,000 kcal/day,’ and are encouraged to compare this enforced starvation with ‘several commercial weight-loss programs in the United States which involve similar or even greater reductions in calorific intake.’”
I had, however, forgotten about this until now, so I’m sure you’re absolutely right that it directly contributed to weight loss.
Sadly, also, although you’re right that “The multiple insertion of a feeding tube in and of itself is not torture,” there were many examples of the tubes being inserted into the prisoners’ lungs, one occasion when a piece of the tube broke off inside the prisoner, and numerous reports of the tube not being cleaned when taken from one prisoner and used on another.
I’m also beyond defining torture, as, to me, the whole experience of Guantanamo is torture. No charge, no trial, no meaningful opportunity to explain that you may not, in fact, be a “terrorist,” waking up every day with no knowledge of when, if ever, you might be released … It’s not waterboarding, but the mental stress must be overwhelming.
Al Sharpton accused alot of people of racism based on the lies that Tawana Brawley told. They convinced the MSM that she was raped by a white Court Officer. They ruined alot of people’s lives. These people who have written this article and the followup comments are simple putting their names to the propaganda issued by Ali Bambi and his Thieves. Stop this nonsense. It is time consumer, expensive and simply stupid. Give it up. You guys won the presidency, the country is on the path of Socialism, and we will ultimately be a Third Nation nation just a few years out.
Who are “You Guys” HolyBlitzer”? Why not, like many of us readers here – look for truth & facts without the usual labels? There is plenty of truth here to be had as hard as it is to accept. Any manner of reasonably decent legacy we leave for our nations and our children depend on facing the consequences of our years of extreme inhumanity and lawlessness toward others – particularly that of the US despite the Constitution/Bill of Rights and signing on to the Geneva Accords. Now – how about all of us making an about face – for the sake of a decent future for us all?
With profound gratitude for Andy for this hard to swallow yet absolutely essential record.
Excellent article, as usual. I think it would be useful if you would say more about the motivations of the prisoners–about what they say, and what can be inferred, and about the conditions they are living in.
I also received the following message from Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, the military defense attorney for Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from Guantánamo in February. Yvonne has some fascinating recollections about the period in June 2006 when the first three deaths occurred at Guantánamo, and also has some very interesting things to say about the current state of the Office of Military Commissions’ defense department.
Thanks for your excellent article. I forgot what 11 June represents in Gitmo’s sordid history. I should always remember the anniversary of the suicides as the tragic events brought a sudden halt to Binyam’s trial. Binyam’s trial was to start that Monday and the suicides occurred on the Saturday prior. The JTF and Pentagon put everything on hold to prevent the press and media from showing up on the island after the suicides. Poor Binyam, he was never told that his trial was postponed and he sat in his cell for more than a month thinking that his trial had been conducted without him. I was not allowed to fly to Gitmo until sometime in July, weeks after the events, and this was the first time that Binyam had been informed that his trial had been postponed and the charges dismissed because of the Hamdan Supreme Court decision.
Also to let you know, my tour with the OMC-D is coming to an end. I can’t wait to get out of here. Things are so different from when I first joint the office. Gone are the days of Mori and Swift [Dan Mori and Charlie Swift, military defense attorneys for David Hicks and Salim Hamdan] when counsel knew that the only way to beat this corrupt system was in the court of public opinion. Today, in my opinion, military counsel believe they can win inside the commission courts if they are given full and fair access to their clients and resources. In my opinion, any commission court (whether under Bush rules or Obama rules) by definition is an unfair court and defense attorneys unwilling to challenge the system from the outside like a Mori or Swift will get slaughtered in any commissions court. Hence I am glad that I will be moving on.
Thanks again for the article and all that you have done in the past to get the word out on Binyam’s case and the other horrible stories of Gitmo. KEEP UP THE EXCELLENT WORK.
Thanks, Yvonne. I had never heard that story about Binyam before, and am delighted that you have shared it.
Also glad to hear that you’re moving on, but sorry to hear that the atmosphere has changed so drastically. I fear for the future if, as you point out, those working within it have forgotten that “any commission court (whether under Bush rules or Obama rules) by definition is an unfair court.”
[...] Andy Worthington.co.uk June 10, 2009 [...]
[...] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 14 June [...]
[...] Read Article [...]
Nothing will change at all. Voting Americans overwhelmingly from the biblical belt are devout evangelists and zionists and in their diseased minds, all torture, murder and even genocide and slaughter is acceptable to “Jesus” in light of the rapture they await. Americans, by and large, are a woefully & grotesquely ignorant, sick and demented nation obsessed with sex and violence. To date they look upon their disgusting genocide of the Japanese as a favour to the world. They will continue their carnage and slaughter as they have done so throughout their miserable history. They will never change in a billion years.
Ensuring that a detainee does not commit suicide via starvation is now “torture”?
Further, your failure to review detainees initial weights versus their lowest recorded weight speaks to a fundamental failure to accurately review the data. Any conclusions drawn from your review are invalidated not only by your failure to take into account basic data and analytical considerations such a intake weight, but also your failure to take into consideration things such as height versus weight proportionality (localized to the detainee’s country of origin/circumstance) and illnesses upon intake. Simply stating that the “average man weighs 150 to 200 pounds” is a illegitimate and incredibly transparent attempt to set a theme partial to your preconceived notions of the conditions in Guantanamo.
Shame on you for your biased, unscientific and ill-founded “article”.
In the jewish Talmud all other people,beside jews,are consider ANIMAL(GOY).Those converted KHAZARS THAT ADOPTED JUDAISM IN THE BLACK SEE KINGDOM OF KHAZARIA IN 740 CLAIM TO BE THE PEOPLE OF THE BIBLE,WHAT A JOKE.REVELATION 2:9,,3:9 TELLS US THAT THE JEWS ARE THE SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN(CHILDREN OF DEVIL).that is why america torture,because the jews are in control,they do this to people of Palestine every day.America will be destroy soon,the jewish toilet paper dollar is finish.By 2013 is finish,you have to tank the PRIVATE JEWISH FEDERAL RESERVE BANK,THAT PRINT THE WORTLESS DOLLAR WITH INTERE
Start deporting the Zionists or anyone who show support for Israel to Israel.
Starvation and forced feeding at GITMO. The feeding is done by forcing a tube down the throat, procedure I’ve had to check my stomach and a common procedure done by doctors as an outpatient procedure. There are nurses, an anesthesiologist and a doctor. The patient is also given a pain killer. This is prior to the insertion of the probe which includes a camera. The patient doesn’t even know until they wake up what happened. This makes the procedure easier for the medical staff as well as the patient, prisoner in GITMO. Somehow I don’t think that the military in GITMO adheres to these same medical practices that if a doctor didn’t follow would be subject to malpractice!
Thanks for the comment, which highlights an important contrast between your “humane” experiences and the supposedly “humane” treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo.
[...] or al-Noofayee, and, as I explained in an article three months ago, he was also Guantánamo’s longest-term hunger striker, having been without solid food — and subjected to painful force-feeding twice a day — since [...]
Okay. Let me get this straight,
Guantanamo is a Jail.
For Terrorists and mass murderers.
And you want it closed down and all of them to be running free in the world again?
So they can blow you up?
So they can drop a nuke in America?
So we can have more incidents like 9/11?
It’s not impossible.
This article is such total bull.
You’re making the army out to be this big bad organization that is being mean to the poor little terrorists.
I’m sorry, if they want to go on Hunger Strikes and starve themselves, it’s their own fault. Why is it so bad that the military was force feeding them, trying to SAVE them?? Are you too DENSE to realize that? The military was trying to keep them ALIVE. Despite however many innocent civillians these people have severely hurt and even killed…
It is so funny how the Media works.
When Obama raises taxes, or messes something up, they talk about how he’s being wonderful and saving all these poor little self-abusing and suicidal terrorists instead.
You disgust me.
amen to that Lorraine
America is a great country that was founded on the truths of God’s word ( that would be The Holy Bible). They feed us lies the media and the goverment people we are not animals. Wake up look into this stuff ask the Lord for wisdom in finding the truth. Don’t be a follow the leader.Just because the news says it does not make it a fact. This junk on Guantanamo is lies. These people are murders they are out to destory our country and all that live in it. Wake up America!!!!!!!! And God help us!
The guy who wrote this not an American. You need to “Sir mind your own affairs there in your country”.
[...] is that the men had clearly irritated the authorities to an extraordinary degree. All three were long-term hunger strikers, who, in at least two cases, had been force-fed until their deaths, and were amongst the few [...]
[...] a result of these allegations — and because he was a long-term hunger striker, whose weight dropped, at one point, to just 88 pounds — al-Amri was held in the maximum security [...]
[...] he stated that he and al-Hanashi, who, at the time, weighed just 104 pounds (and at one point had weighed just 86 pounds), had both been on a hunger strike at the start of 2009, which had involved them being force-fed [...]
I think I have previously mentioned that some captives had their weights recorded, or had a record that they refused to be weighed — AFTER they had already been transferred.
I prepared a table of the details of thirty captives whose official record shows the medical staff were still trying to record their weights after their transfer. http://en.wikialpha.org/wiki/User:Geo_Swan/Guantanamo_Captives_who_had_weight%28s%29_recorded,_or_who_were_recorded_as_having_refused_to_be_weighed_–_AFTER_their_release
Personally, I find this kind of discrepancy very disturbing. As you have noted, just about all the formerly secret JTF-GTMO assessments assert the captive “was evasive”, or offered multiple conflicting accounts of themselves. Well, if the guards couldn’t tell the captives apart, and regularly delivered the wrong captive to the interrogators, that could explain most or all of the analysis that the captives were “evasive”. If one time in ten when interrogators thought they were interrogating Abdullah, they were really interrogating Ibrahim, naturally Ibrahim is going to give different answers than Abdullah.
These records of weighins after the captives had been transferred is one of the ways these records suggest
medical staff didn’t recognize when they couldn’t tell one captive from another. Habeas lawyers have written about how guards routinely brought them strangers when they were expecting to meet with their clients.
Chillingly, I think part of the reason why guards so often confused one captive for another was the infamous “frequent flyer program” — the program were selected captives were targeted for sleep deprivation, by being made to move cells a dozen or more times a day. I think you, or Jeffrey or Jason have written that the guards at the camp continued to unofficially implement this ill-advised program long after it was officially abandoned. When the official record shows Abdullah is in a particular cell, but guards who wanted to unofficially punish Ibrahim, with sleep deprivation, have made the two men swap cells, when interrogators come to fetch Abdullah for his interrogation, they take Ibrahim instead.
That table is at wikialpha — not the wikipedia. It is a smaller wiki that uses the same software as the wikipedia, but has different rules. By contributing it there I agreed to release the table into the public domain.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Your attention to detail continues to impress me. Perhaps one day the aberration that is Guantanamo will be closed down, and we’ll be able to record this kind of material as history. For now, however, it’s still actual evidence, even though most of the people in positions of power and authority who should care don’t.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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