With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now in its third month, it is encouraging that so much of the mainstream media is paying close attention to the story, maintaining pressure on the Obama administration to do something about it — most obviously by securing the release of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009, just after he had issued his executive order promising to close the prison within a year.
Despite that promise, the men have actually been abandoned by all three branches of the US government. President Obama bears huge responsibility, for having imposed a blanket ban, three years ago, on releasing any cleared Yemenis, in the wake of a failed bomb plot that originated in Yemen, and Congress has also imposed almost insurmountable restrictions on the release of prisoners.
The hunger strike seems to have pricked the conscience of the mainstream media, who, for the most part, had lost interest in Guantánamo and the men abandoned by President Obama and used as pawns in a cynical political game by Congress, and I’m relieved that this is the case, because I believe that only sustained pressure — both domestic and international — can persuade President Obama and lawmakers to wake up to the horrors of their indifference and their cynicism.
Yesterday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Samir Moqbel, one of the 166 prisoners still held, who has been on a hunger strike since it began, and is currently being force-fed. Samir was able to tell his story because he was allowed to talk on the phone to his lawyers — at the London-based legal action charity, Reprieve — and the normal censorship rules that apply to the lawyers’ written notes, do not apply to phone calls.
Samir’s story has been attracting significant attention since its publication, and I’m cross-posting it below not only because of its importance in and of itself, but also because of Samir’s particular circumstances. Although 86 prisoners have been cleared for release, only 56 have been identified. Samir, however, isn’t one of the 56, even though anyone looking at his story objectively would realize that he is completely insignificant.
As I explained when I told his story two and half years ago:
Moqbel (also identified as Samir Mukbel) stated that he was tricked by a friend, who told him he would find a job in Afghanistan. “He told me I would like it in Afghanistan and I could live a better life than in Yemen,” he said in a hearing at Guantánamo. “I thought Afghanistan was a rich country but when I got there I found out different … it was all destroyed with poverty and destruction. I found there was no basis for getting a job there.” His lawyers at Reprieve explained that he “is the eldest son of seven brothers and five sisters, and as the eldest son, is the family breadwinner,” and added that he was enticed by the false prospect of “more jobs and better salaries” in Afghanistan because, at the time, he “was working in a factory in Yemen earning just $50 a month.”
In Guantánamo, in response to allegations that he was a bodyguard for bin Laden, and that he fought with the Taliban in various locations, he stated, “These accusations make you laugh. These accusations are like a movie. Me, a bodyguard for bin Laden, then do operations against Americans and Afghanis and make trips in Afghanistan? I don’t believe any human being could do all these things … This is me? I have watched a lot of American movies like Rambo and Superman, but I believe that I am better than them. I went to Pakistan and Afghanistan a month before the Americans got there … How can a person do all these operations in only a month?”
Samir is probably one of 30 Yemeni prisoners assigned to “conditional detention” by President Obama’s task force, on the basis that they should only be released when the security situation in Yemen improves, even though no indication was given as to how this decision would be made.
I’ve always found that this invented category was an unacceptable basis for holding these 30 men, although since then, of course, all the other cleared Yemenis — and, in fact, almost everyone still held in Guantánamo — has ended up indefinitely detained, whether by accident or design.
I fervently hope that the mainstream media, who have finally remembered Guantánamo, also fully comprehend how unacceptable this situation is, and that they continue to publicize the horrors of the indefinite detention to which the prisoners have been condemned, which will last until their deaths unless President Obama and Congress take action.
Samir Moqbel’s story is one that needs to be publicized, as widely as possible, to exert significant pressure on President Obama and on lawmakers, to get them to do what is needed to bring this intolerable situation to an end, by releasing prisoners, and not, as happened over the weekend, by resorting to violence to try to break the strike.
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.
I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.
When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.
I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.
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 only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.
I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.
Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.
I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.
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.
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Tela Smith Hawary wrote:
…brutally force fed…and how was your day ?
Hopefully that’s the message that’s getting through to people, Tela. It’s impossible to put a cheerful spin on it, isn’t it?
Thanks to everyone who’s liked and shared this. I confess that I am slightly surprised that the hunger strike appears to have finally secured the media’s attention after such a long period when they had very little interest. But we mustn’t rest until there are results – the release of the 86 cleared prisoners, and urgent, objective reviews of almost all the others.
Kevi Brannelly wrote:
an amazing piece. it hurts the heart
For the first time, we’re hearing directly from the prisoners, Kevi. I hope it continues. If the government clamps down on the calls, it will be clear that Obama doesn’t care. My hope, though, is that it’s providing the necessary impetus for real change. The ball is in Obama’s court. He needs to drop his ban on releasing Yemenis, and he needs to tell Congress that it is not in America’s interests to keep holding people like Samir.
Andy, thanks for covering Moqbel’s Op-Ed. Since he dictated it, in Arabic, I think we should credit Clive Stafford-Smith with ghost-writing the English translation.
A week ago Ryan J. Reilly reported in, the Huffington Post, that
Another Guantanamo detainee also informed his lawyer, who relayed the information to Crider, that fellow detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel had a “minor heart stroke”(sic) while being tube fed on March 19 and was sent to the hospital.
I suspect “minor heart stroke” may have been a typo for “heat stroke”, as a stroke refers to a vascular event in the brain, not the heart. Heat stroke can be fatal, is a kind of fainting, which someone can recover from, without ill effects, if they are promptly cooled down. So it is not actually what we usually think of as a stroke.
Maybe it was a heart attack?
His Op-Ed has him in hospital on the 15th — not the 19th. Maybe he has been hospitalized multiple times?
Moqbel reports that they ran out of enough trained medical staff to administer all the force-feedings.
It is shocking that the DoD apparently hasn’t flown in enough extra medical personnel.
During the big 2005-2006 hunger strike, camp medical authorities disputed that ordinary untrained guards were inserting the feeding tubes.
The wikipedia keeps stats on how many times a page was accessed. Moqbel’s article shows a sudden spike on the 15th. http://stats.grok.se/en/201304/Samir%20Naji%20Al%20Hasan%20Moqbel
I refreshed my memory by taking another look at Moqbel’s CSRT transcript. He is one of the captives who told the officers on his 2004 Tribunal that the allegations used to justify his continued detention, that he faced on the Summary of Evidence memo, were unfamiliar to him — that none of his interrogators have ever asked him questions related to those allegations.
I remembered that a notable number of captives made similar claims, which, the Tribunal officers ignored. I started to wonder whether this was a mistake.
It has seemed to me that there are multiple reasons to suspect that JTF-GTMO guards were unconcerned whether they actually delivered the right captive to their medical appointments, and their legal appointments.
I now wonder whether captives who asserted that the memo being read out during the Tribunal was not the memo that had been delivered to them may have been telling the truth, and that due to the lacksadasical attitude of the guards captives were delivered memos drafted for someone else.
Moqbel’s claim was different — that the allegations in his memo were unfamiliar to him, and were not the things his interrogators had questioned him about. This too could be explained if the guards had delivered the wrong captives to interrogators.
Surely the CSRT officers and interrogators would have realized the wrong captive had been brought to them, because the names wouldn’t match? Well they routinely ignored captives who said, “That not my name.”
The case of captive 950, Abdullah Khan, illustrates that interrogators were also prepared to ignore captives’ claims that interrogators had confused them with someone else. Andy, I know you are familiar with Khan’s case, but I will take the liberty of repeating some of the details for your readers. Khan had been denounced to highly credulous American intelligence officials, by cynical bounty hunters. They captured Khan in early 2003, after being told he was a former Taliban governor named Khirullah Khairkhwa. Those intelligence officials failed the US public by failing to check to see whether Khairkhwa was already in US custody.
In fact the real Khairkhwa had been apprehended in late 2001. When Khan was transferred to Guantanamo, in mid 2003, he learned that the real Khairkhwa was already in Guantanamo.
Khan testified, at his January 2005 CSR Tribunal, that for the next year and a half, every interrogation started with his interrogators insisting they knew he was lying about his identity, that he was really Khairkhwa. And, Khan testified, at every interrogation, he insisted that if only they would check the prison roster, they would see that they already held the real Khairkhwa.
It still shocks me that no one, during that year and a half, took the obvious step of checking the prison roster.
I am afraid that this tunnel vision, and lack of curiousity and initiative, was typical, not an anomaly, and that Guantanamo staff routinely ignored evidence that one captive had been confused with another.
What could have caused so much identity confusion?
I suspect it was made much worse by the sleep deprivation technique they called “the frequent flyer program”, where captives were continually moved from cell to cell.
Early in the camp’s history this form of sleep deprivation was an authorized technique. We know camp staff continued unofficial use of this technique, long after official authorization had been withdrawn.
So, guards with the responsibility to fetch captives for their medical appointments, for interrogations, for meetings with their lawyers or with OARDEC officers were routinely fetching whoever the official roster said was in that cell, even when due to the frequent flyer program, it really held someone else.
Maybe Clive Stafford Smith can say whether Moqbul was a victim of the frequent flyer program.
Thanks, arcticredriver, for monitoring discrepancies and unexplained passages in the documentation. I’ve just been interviewed on a Canadian radio station, News Talk Radio in Saskatchewan, in which the host read out the whole of Samir’s statement and I was particularly struck by the comment that they ran out of enough trained medical staff to administer all the force-feedings. It’s shocking indeed that extra medical personnel haven’t been flown in.
Nice to know, arcticredriver. Thanks. I haven’t looked at my stats for ages, but this has 188 likes on Facebook, and has also been extensively shared. I think the New York Times‘ original has genuinely gone viral.
Thanks, arcticredriver, for the reminders about the confusions regarding prisoners’ identities. Omar Deghayes told me how farcical it was, with people rushed in and out of tribunals at lightning speed, so my feeling is that actually the guards – and other military personnel, presumably, up the chain of command – neither necessarily knew nor cared if the prisoners they were delivering were who they were supposed to be. It’s constantly shocking when you realise that the authorities didn’t even necessarily know who the prisoners were.
Tela Smith Hawary wrote, in response to 2, above:
yes… That closing was one of the main reasons I voted for Obama. It’s sickening to think of those poor men in there… dehumanized, tortured, drugged… it’s just soul sickening
Tela Smith Hawary wrote:
… AND here is someone who bravely, would rather starve to death than live another year in wretchedness… only to be brutally force fed; as if there could be any other way.
Dhyanne Green wrote:
It’s beyond belief that Obama wont sign the ‘releases’ for these prisoners. He can ‘sign’ so many other pieces of paper if and when he chooses and laws are brought into being immediately.
Maybe these prisoners have been so badly treated that the US govt is now afraid that if they release them, the truth – of which the US govt is most afraid – will be told.
The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ would be and is so true.
Thanks again, Tela – and Dhyanne. I think more people are learning how sickening it is – Samir’s words have certainly gone viral worldwide. And Dhyanne, yes, it’s hugely important for people to realise that they need to put pressure on President Obama. No more excuses. He’s the President of the United States.
WRT President Obama’s responsibility — Carol Rosenberg wrote that the guard force got advance clearance for last weekend’s assault on the captives, where they were rounded up from their communal quarters, to be held in isolation.
Frankly, this surprised me, as I attributed some of the behind the scenes improvements in the captives’ living conditions to Obama. Camp Six was built using the blueprints of a medium security facility in the USA — with groups of cells that opened onto a communal meeting area where captives were intended to be free to mingle for most of the day, eat together, pray together, watch TV, play board games, etc. But Camp Six was opened around the time of the first three deaths the DoD acknowledged at the camp. And those deaths had been preceded by what camp authorities claimed had been a riot in Camp Four — which had previously been the camp for compliant captives.
So the decision was made to keep the captives in camp 6 in isolation, and to leave the communal areas unused.
In 2009 pictures started to emerge of the Camp 6’s communal areas being used, as originally intended. Some photos even showed captives using laptop computers there, although presumably with no internet access. Recent press reports implied, that until last weekend’s crackdown, Camp 6 captives’ communal areas extended to outside exercise yards.
It took over 2 years to allow the captives out of round the clock isolation after the 2006 so-called “riot”. I hope they don’t wait 2 years this time — particularly since, even by the unreliable Colonel Bogdan’s briefing, almost half of the captives did not present any resistance.
Photos of “weapons” the captives were claimed to have constructed were shown after the 2006 event, and similar photos of “weapons” were shown after this event. But I am afraid there are strong reasons to doubt the truthfulness of the 2006 warden (Bumgardner(?)), who Scott Horton has suggested was the actual murderer of the three men who died in June 2006, and to doubt the truthfulness of Colonel John Bogdan, whose claims he knew nothing about the monitoring of lawyer consults just aren’t credible.
I am afraid that this crackdown is not triggered by captives acting up, as the camp authorities claim. Rather I suspect it is triggered by misplaced anger over the camp authorities’ secrets, like the secret monitorings, and the secret breach of the defense lawyers privileged files, being revealed.
Recently reported — the captives lawyers will no longer be allowed to communicate with their clients by telephone.
This follows the restriction, a few weeks ago, that they would no longer be allowed to fly to the base to communicate with them in person.
Thanks, arcticredriver, for your usual well-researched analysis.
I can’t even bring myself to think about prisoners spending two years in isolation as a result of the hunger strike, but the long-term picture is starting to look very dubious for the administration anyway, as I imagine prisoners will die unless there is meaningful change at the prison, and the release of a substantial number of the men.
I still imagine that maintaining order is a localized issue for the authorities, and is not explicitly driven by Obama. However, it is imperative that his general silence does not signify a refusal to engage with the root of the prisoners’ despair, but is happening because there are high-level discussions underway about how and where to release prisoners.
I’m hoping that was an isolated incident and not a policy, arcticrerdriver. I’ll look into it.
I came across another surprising item related to OARDEC — the “Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants”. It looks like a DoD position wanted for the legal advisor to OARDEC.
Here is the “positions wanted” — and a mirror: https://acpol2.army.mil/fasclass/search_fs/search_fs_output.asp?fcp=zutpk3eFRtaToL2jpchGuam0buidbYGflatWf2C7hLBnY3%2BcmKQ%3D http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Position_Description_PD_–_DV394960
I assumed that when President Obama set up the Joint Review Task Force OARDEC would be dissolved. But here it is advertizing for new staff as late as 2012. It might make sense to keep some clerical staff on duty, to look up and forward files, upon request. But this positions wanted implies OARDEC is still meeting, to perform reviews.
Ah, mystery solved — maybe. We have been wondering when we would hear news of the annual reviews Obama’s Joint Review Task Force was supposed to set up. This document cites the authority of Executive Order 13567 from March 11, 2007.
This implies that deeply flawed OARDEC will conduct those annual reviews.
What do you bet this new OARDEC hasn’t conducted a single review?
This would be a good thing to ask that public affairs officer who sent you the snide comments.
Fascinating, arcticredriver. Well found!
Here’s an excerpt:
This position is an attorney for the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC). The OARDEC Administrative Review Board is a U.S. military body that conducts an annual review of the enemy combatants. The purpose of the Board is to assess the current and potential threat posed by the detainee, then recommend whether the detainee will remain under the custody of the Joint Task Force.
The OARDEC Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS), established by Executive Order 13567 of March 7, 2011, is responsible for obtaining information within DoD and from other Federal agencies including the National Security Council, Department of State, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Agencies provide both classified and unclassified information to OARDEC/PRS to assist in making a determination. The OARDEC/PRS is responsible for coordinating with Department of State to provide each detainee’s home nation the opportunity to provide information, including the opportunity to submit information from the detainee’s family.
This information is reviewed and summarized by OARDEC/PRS. This review does not determine guilt or innocence. It makes a recommendation as to whether the detainee can be released, transferred, or continued to be detained.
The new OAREC certainly hasn’t conducted a single review yet, which is another immense disgrace. The reviews were promised over two years ago, and the failure to proceed just looks like complete disdain for the prisoners designated for indefinite detention. Par for the course, unfortunately …
Something new has come up with regard to the NSA metadata interception. A criminal suspect in the USA believed his cell phone location metadata would prove his innocence. But, by the time he was charged his cell phone company had already erased that data. When he read that his cell phone company had allowed the NSA to vacuum up all that meta-data hs submitted a request for the NSA to look up that data, and prove his innocence. http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/27.36.html#subj5
It sounds like a wrinkle no one had anticipated. Will national security be used as a justification for not producing this information. I am afraid it is likely this request will be impeded. But, what happens if it goes forward?
Thinking about this reminded me of Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent article “The dog ate my evidence”
“Is the government taking the position that this evidence is both critically, vitally, and hugely important to national security, but also, um, lost? Not quite. But it is saying that the “record” relied upon to lock up men for years is somehow so scattered among various Department of Defense “components, and all relevant federal agencies” that it cannot be pulled together for a review. This claim—a version of “the dog ate our record”—is triply sickening in light of the fact that some of the detainees at Gitmo have reportedly undergone not one, not two, but three CSRTs, because the Pentagon kept demanding that they be retried over and over again until they were found guilty. “
I predict if a judge order the NSA to produce Terrance Brown’s cell phone records, they’ll blow smoke, they will obfuscate, they will delay — but in the end they will admit that while, in theory, they have those records, they can’t find it.
I predict if a judge orders the NSA to produce the records, and has to explain why it can’t do so, or when records of this program are declassified, in 50 years, or 100 years, it will be plain the US intelligence establishment had compiled a truly enormous amount of data, that it couldn’t manage or access.
There is the case of Hiwa Abdul Rahman Rashul — a prisoner illegally held and interrogated by the CIA in Iraq. CIA lawyers told DCI George Tenet that, uniquely, captives apprehended in Iraq couldn’t be held in CIA custody. So Tenet asks Rumsfeld to hold him for the CIA — “off the books”. Junior guards call this captive with no name “triple x” after the title of a recent spy movie. The efforts to keep him “off the books” were so effective neither the CIA or the DoD brass could find him again, and he spent almost a year being held and fed “off the books”
Fascinating, arcticredriver. Thanks for that. I think you may well be correct to point out that one major problem, for the government, with having a truly colossal surveillance program is that it needs a huge number of skilled operators to keep on top of it all — and that this is probably not happening.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “The Lives of Others,” but if you haven’t, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a drama about the Stasi in East Germany, showing what a practical police state looks like.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have significant elements of a police state in our countries, but we don’t have governments prepared to pay enough people to spy on their neighbors – or, in the modern sense, to monitor and analyze data effectively.
That said, I believe we still need to tell our governments to back off – firstly, by savagely cutting the amount of money spent on surveillance, and secondly, by allowing dissent, and not terrorising people into believing, with some justification, that their lives will be ruined if they engage in protest movements.
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