Guantánamo Hunger Strike: Nabil Hadjarab Tells Court, “I Will Consider Eating When I See People Leaving This Place”

2.7.13

Yesterday, I wrote about a motion submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. by Reprieve, the legal action charity, and Jon B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California, on behalf of four prisoners taking part in the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo that is about to enter its sixth month. According to the authorities, 106 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, although the prisoners claim that the true number is at least 120.

The four men are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and they are amongst the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but are still held — in part because of Congressional opposition, but also because of indifference on the part of President Obama.

Despite promising to resume releasing prisoners in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, which he can do through a waiver that exists in the legislation passed by Congress that otherwise makes it all but impossible to release prisoners, the President has not released a single one of these 86 cleared prisoners since that promise was made.

As well as being cleared prisoners and hunger strikers, both Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab are currently being force-fed, along with 42 others out of the remaining 166 prisoners.

As part of the case, which Judge Rosemary Collyer ordered the government to respond to by 12 midnight on Wednesday July 3, Cori Crider, the Strategic Director of submitted a declaration, in which she gave detailed accounts of her recent conversations with Nabil Hadjarab, Ahmed Belbacha and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, and I’m posting below the section in which she reported Nabil’s account of the hunger strike, and added her own comments.

This is a sad account, as Nabil, who was barely out of his teens when sent to Guantánamo, has not been a hunger striker before, and has never previously been force-fed. His despair is indicative of that of many of his fellow prisoners, after eleven and half years without justice, and the ongoing failure of President Obama to, at the very least, release the men that his own task force said should no longer be held three and a half years ago — some of whom, like Nabil, were also cleared for release under President Bush.

I told Nabil’s story last year, in an article entitled, “Nabil Habjarab, the “Sweet Kid” in Guantánamo, Was Cleared in 2007 But Is Still Held,” and I refer you to that for the explanation of his broken family background, and how he ended up in Afghanistan, and then Guantánamo. Though Algerian by birth, he is an orphan, and the closest members of his extended family are in France, where he spent much of his youth.

To add your voice to others calling for the French government to demand his return to France, please sign the Change.org petition here (in English), and please also watch the recently released short animated video below, in which Nabil’s words are spoken by the British actor David Morrissey. In the video, Nabil talks about the hunger strike and the force-feeding:

Nabil Hadjarab’s declaration from Guantánamo
Submitted by Cori Crider

I began my discussion with Mr. Hadjarab about this motion at the beginning of May when I was at Guantánamo, but we were not able to complete a declaration in that time. During the visit Mr. Hadjarab was extremely weak and had to put his head on the table to rest several times.

I have known Mr. Hadjarab since 2007. It is unprecedented in my experience for him to engage in a protest such as a hunger strike. He has throughout his detention typically been very compliant. He has actively avoided provoking the authorities, choosing instead to try to focus on maintaining his health through exercise, eating a healthy diet, and by learning as much as possible about fitness and healthy living. Over the past few years, whenever my office would visit Nabil he would request that we bring health items such as protein powder, energy bars, and fitness magazines. Previously, Nabil was very serious about trying to stay healthy despite his situation at Guantánamo. All that has changed now.

I spoke to him on June 17 by telephone, when he indicated that he wished to join the motion. In light of the communications difficulties he instructed me to file promptly in my name. I paraphrase his statements to me below.

Instruction to counsel

“I ask the Court to order the government to stop tube-feeding me, and to make sure the government cannot administer this medicine Reglan. I do not want to die, but I am prepared to. All I am asking is that I be given the choice whether to eat.

Reason for striking

“For years I never thought about being on hunger strike, but I am doing this because I want to know my destiny. I cannot abide not knowing anymore.

“The most important thing in my life is my health, my body. I used to take care of myself, tried to work out, eat right, that sort of thing. But my situation is so serious now I am willing to sacrifice my body and my health. What good are these things without freedom?

“I cannot continue here like this. I feel it’s pointless to take care of myself. I used to think that I would keep myself healthy for when I was released and that I’d continue doing it outside and enjoy myself out there with my family. But this day has never come and now it feels to me it never will. In the past I tried to have hope, but everything has a limit.

“Again, the issue is not that I wish to die. I wish to live, free, with my family in France. But I am prepared to die because I believe there is no end-point to my imprisonment.

“I am afraid I believe this despite Mr. Obama’s repeated and lofty promises, and despite that I have been cleared more than once since the Bush years. The Court may wish to believe what Mr. Obama says; no doubt the idea that someone else, sometime, somewhere will resolve my situation is an attractive one. In days gone by I wanted to believe the President, too. But the Court is not here, with me, in the space I have occupied for nearly a dozen years. I am not sure I think the Court could possibly imagine what it is like for us here, even if it tried.

“I am desperate for freedom. In our brief lives, freedom is all that matters. Things like privileges and food are secondary and meaningless.

“Force-feeding us is a way of burying what we have to say. In this place, isn’t the last thing I have left the ability to decide what to do with my own life? Will the military be allowed to take this from me too?

“I will consider eating when I see people leaving this place. Not before.”

The experience of hunger-striking and force-feeding

“I started my hunger strike on the 7th of February, shortly after my lawyer Clive left the base. I have lost a great deal of weight and am very sick. I was taken to the hospital and hospitalized for 5 days. On March 22nd I was force fed for the first time. I think I was the third one to be force fed and I am still being fed by tubes.

“I’m lost. I’m suffering every day. In a way this isn’t new: I’ve been suffering for over 11 years. But the experience in the chair is something different.

“The chair itself reminds me of an execution chair. Your legs and arms are tied with belts. Your shoulders are tied with belts. There are I think at least 6 belts in all. If you refuse to let them put the tube in, they force your head back. The medical staff puts the tubes in, in the presence of the guards.

“It’s a very painful experience. Some are passing out from having the tubes inserted. With time, I have gotten used to it. Still, it is very risky because if the tube goes in the wrong way the liquid might get into your lungs. I know some who have developed infections in the nose. They now have to keep the tubes in the nose because they have these bad infections. The whole experience is highly unnatural and a lot of people have deteriorated to a shocking extent.

“I am still not eating. I am force fed twice a day. Sometimes I feel very sad, both before and after the feedings. It is crazy to me that they save your life by force feeding, but will not negotiate with you on your freedom.

“When I go to be force fed the medical staff tell me that hunger-striking is hazardous to my health. Do they think I don’t know this? It is their role to do something about our treatment, to help us. But they don’t. They just help us to damage ourselves.

“One of the doctors, I suppose to try to get me to eat, asked me what food I most missed. I said yes, there is indeed a dish I miss: a nice plate of freedom with some spices.

“I try to ask the doctors why they don’t work with human rights organizations. They agree that they should but keep going with the force-feeding anyway, saying that we are putting them in a difficult, embarrassing situation.”

Reglan

“I haven’t heard of a drug called Reglan from the military. They ask me sometimes if I want something to help my upset stomach but I always say no. Still, I believe they would potentially give it to me without asking me or letting me know about the side- effects. I am very concerned about this because, in the tiny likelihood I were to be released with any of my health still intact, what if I were to have some terrible neurological disorder?”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

27 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Dave Reed wrote:

    Let them go if they’ve been cleared ffs!! Holding them longer isn’t going to make it better or easier, only worse.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Dave. It’s why I keep repeating it almost every day. If President Obama wants to hold prisoners forever without charge or trial like a proper dictatorship, then he shouldn’t hold a year-long review process involving all the major government departments and the intelligence agencies, tell the world – and the cleared prisoners – that he really doesn’t want to continue holding them indefinitely, and then continue holding them indefinitely. That’s a particular form of cruelty that would make most dictators either blush with embarrassment or envy the descent to new depths of inhumanity that it reveals.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Dave Reed wrote:

    It’s beyond inhuman and I don’t care what Congress says or does they are all complicit as are the rest of us.
    Time to shame some people if they have any.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Dave. Shaming everyone in a position of power and authority is necessary – the President, his administration, Congress, the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit Court, most of the mainstream media – and US citizens who aren’t outraged by it. I’ve been led to believe that many Americans think their nation respects the rule of law. That’s a delusion to some extent, of course,but the mainstream view is still, I think, that indefinite detention without charge or trial is un-American. So if that’s the case, it’s not acceptable to start making exceptions.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Albert Melise wrote:

    When I was there it was a lot worse we even had children there in camp iguana. …. you don’t even want to know what some of those kids went through.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Albert. Very good to hear from you. I remember when you spoke to my friend Jason Leopold a few years ago, and I’d like to thank you for your courage in doing so. I recall very well the stories of the children, and of course in those years (2002-04) it’s well known how torture permeated every aspect of the prison’s operation. Sadly, with the hunger strike, I think now the regime is back to being very brutal, plus the men still there have already had to endure eleven and a half years of horrendous isolation, and the despair resulting from these long years, since Obama first betrayed his promises, of not seeing any way that they’re ever going to be released.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Albert Melise wrote:

    Yes they can be released if more ppl come foward who know its secrets and lies….

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s extremely important, Albert. I am hoping soon to resume detailed research exposing the lies that permeate almost everything that’s purported to be the evidence against the prisoners, but people who know about what took place, from the inside, are absolutely invaluable.

  9. Terry Holdbrooks says...

    Andy,

    I would love to be put in touch with the individual who animated this video. I think he has a knack, and needs to do some more work. Maybe I can arrange for funds for him. Please inform me of how to reach him, or have him reach me?

    Cheers,
    Terry

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Terry,
    Good to hear from you. The video was made for Reprieve, so I guess they would be the best people to contact, as I don’t know who made it: +44 20 7553 8140.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Dave Reed wrote:

    Nice to hear the truth from someone who has been there Albert.
    I respect your service and respect you more because you’ve risen above the company line. Thank you.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Well put, Dave.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Albert Melise wrote:

    Jason Leopold is a great man, and I will have him as a friend for life. He writes truth and its a lot better then the lies that come from the Obama/ Bush regime

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s good to hear, Albert. I haven’t seen Jason for 18 months. Looking forward to our next meeting if I can get out to the west coast.

  15. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, thanks, as always, for your dedication and excellent work keeping this important issue before the public’s attention.

    After 3 years when the President and the US people were largely complacent about Guantanamo the hunger strike has captured the agenda from the torture apologists — for now.

    Have you noticed how, in the last day or so, spin-doctors are trying to mount a counter-campaign that describes the Guantanamo captives as the most coddled prisoners on planet Earth. The “most coddled”? Yeah. Torture apologists point to the the captives’ access to TV (halted since Bogdan’s brutal crackdown); the $750,000 soccer field (unavailable since Bogdan’s crackdown); halal food; allowed to pray.

    Even if they were given five star food; had a TV in every room; a gym attached to each common area — they are [i]still being held without charge in indefinite detention.[/i]

    In important ways a genuinely guilty convict, on a chain gang in Louisiana, Alabama, or Mississipi, is being detained under better conditions than a Guantanamo captive.

    First, all the convicts in the USA, face sentences of a definite term. Unless they are one of the rare convicts with a life sentence, they know how much longer they have to wait until they will be free.

    Second, they know their detention is governed by the rule of law. If they were convicted, then a process that was supposed to be fair, determined they were supposed to be genuinely guilty [i]“beyond a reasonable doubt”[/i]. As you pointed out in another recent article the Obama Joint Review Task Force, the earlier OARDEC hearings, even the habeas hearings were only supposed to consider [i]“the preponderance of the evidence”[/i].

    And, for various indefensible reasons that has morphed into putting faith into tissue thin innuendo, rumours and wild distortion. As you pointed out in the NYTimes Abdul Razzaq Hekmati stood accused of plotting to spring Taliban leaders from a Northern Alliance prison — and while there was a [i]tiny[/i] grain of truth, the vengeful analysts [i]got it completely backwards[/i] — he actually led a daring rescue of Northern Alliance leaders from a Taliban prison in 1999. This is where relying on [i]“the preponderance of the evidence”[/i] gets one.

    Anyhow, the convicted felon in the USA gets better access to the rule of law than the Guantanamo captives. If they think they have legitimate grounds for appeal they don’t have the entire Congress and Justice Department working to strip them or the right to mount that appeal.

    I don’t care if the US kept the captives in a gilded cage — a country club atmosphere, with swimming pools, golf courses, massages — they would [i]still be held without charge in indefinite detention.[/i]

    That is the core unfair distortion in this recent spin doctor campaign — to gloss over that none of the Guantanamo captives was ever convicted of a crime after a fair trial. As you and your readers hardly need to be reminded 90 percent of the remaining captives have never even faced any charges, let alone conviction.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. That’s a very eloquent rebuttal of the smears regarding the supposedly pampered conditions in which the Guantanamo prisoners are held. It’s nothing new, of course, as this kind of propaganda dates back to the Bush administration. I can’t recall who was the first lawmaker to pay a visit to Guantanamo and to return talking loudly about how well-fed the prisoners were, but it mined a rich and disgusting seam of distorted reporting that has been present ever since. Also, thinking back, it was presumably after the prison-wide hunger strike that began in summer 2005, when Shaker Aamer persuaded the authorities to feed the prisoners more than the starvation rations they’d been receiving up to that point.
    My only quibble would be to point out that even prisoners given life sentences without parole in US domestic prisons are in a better position than the Guantanamo prisoners, because of the mental torture of open-ended detention, not knowing if one will ever be released. Prisoners of war could be regarded as having been in a similar position, in the past, but they always had the security of knowing that the war they were held in connection with would come to an end, whereas, although it’s being hinted at by Obama that the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year may bring to an end the justification for holding the men at Guantanamo, that’s not yet been made into official policy.

  17. Thomas says...

    Could he be allowed out if he agreed to go to Algeria?

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    At present, he’s not going anywhere, Thomas, because President Obama isn’t prepared to tell Congress directly that it is crucially important for America’s reputation as a country that respects the rule of law, and has a sense of fairness and proportion, to release any of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by his own inter-agency task force three and a half years ago – or even, as in Nabil’s case, by a military review board under President Bush over six years ago.
    The problem for Nabil, through, as I understand it, is that he has no close relatives in Algeria, so sending him back there would be an act of unacceptable cruelty, as he needs a support network – for his sanity, and to support him financially, as presumably it wil be all but impossible to find work in Algeria while burdened with the taint of Guantanamo.

  19. freedetainees.org – Guantánamo detainee relatives address US senators says...

    [...] Ahmed Hadjarab from France: uncle of Nabil Hadjarab [...]

  20. arcticredriver says...

    John Grisham wrote about Nabil in today’s NYTimes.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/opinion/sunday/after-guantanamo-another-injustice.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
    He wrote that he learned his crime novels were being banned from Guantanamo, and that Nabil was one of the readers who requested them.

    Towards the end of the article he wrote:

    His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands.

    Grisham wrote well. Maybe I should read one of his novels.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s great to see such a high-profile writer tackling the injustice of Guantanamo, arcticredriver. It reminds me that very few celebrities, in any medium, have openly spoken out against the prison’s existence and the monstrous injustice of its regime of indefinite detention. I hope more well-known people come forward, as we’re obviously beyond the point where anyone rational could genuinely believe that the prison serves any positive purpose.

  22. onlineNews 365 – Guantánamo Bay: the US was dead wrong, but no one can admit it | John Grisham says...

    [...] and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it [...]

  23. Guantánamo Bay: The US Was Dead Wrong, But No One Can Admit It | Counter Information says...

    [...] and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it [...]

  24. Guantánamo Bay: the US was dead wrong, but no one can admit it | John Grisham | b1c1_6 says...

    [...] and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it [...]

  25. Guantánamo Bay: the US was dead wrong, but no one can admit it | John Grisham « News in Briefs says...

    [...] and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it [...]

  26. LED Lighting News » Blog Archive » Guantánamo Bay: the US was dead wrong, but no one can admit it | John Grisham says...

    [...] and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it [...]

  27. The Progressive Mind » Guantánamo Bay: The US Was Dead Wrong, But No One Can Admit It says...

    [...] and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it [...]

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