My friends and colleagues at Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners in Guantánamo, have just launched a campaign, “Stand Fast for Justice,” in which they are encouraging people to fast in solidarity with the prisoners at Guantánamo, 120 of whom are taking part in a hunger strike that is now in its sixth month. As the website states, “Stand for your belief in basic human rights. Fast to relieve an unjustly-treated detainee. Start your own hunger strike in solidarity — for hours or days, any support helps.”
To launch the #Standfast campaign, the rapper and actor Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) agreed to be force-fed according to the Standard Operating Procedure for force-feeding prisoners at Guantánamo, which was obtained in May by Jason Leopold of Al-Jazeera.
The harrowing results are below, in a four-minute film, made by Reprieve and the Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, in which Yasiin Bey found the procedure so harrowing that he was unable to continue with it. As the Guardian described it, “When the first tube was dislodged, he was unable to go ahead with a second attempt by the medical team to insert it.”
Breaking down, he said, “I can’t do it,” and afterwards explained, The first part of it is not that bad but then you get this burning and then it just starts to get really unbearable and it starts to feel like somethings going into your brain, and then it reached the back of my throat, and I really just couldn’t take it.”
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins tomorrow, and, as I noted recently, although the authorities have stated their intention not to force-feed prisoners during daylight hours (barring “unforeseen emergency or operational issues”), it is unclear whether they can manage to force-feed 45 prisoners at night, and, if they can, whether the result will be that the whole prison will become a profoundly unsettling “force-feeding factory,” as Reprieve described it.
As the Guardian also noted:
The “Medical Management Standard Operating Procedure” document leaked from the detention camp defines a hunger striker as a detainee who has missed at least nine consecutive meals or whose weight has fallen to less than 85% of his ideal body weight.
If force feeding is deemed medically necessary, medical personnel shackle the detainee “and a mask is placed over the detainee’s mouth to prevent spitting and biting”. A feeding tube is then passed through the detainee’s nostril into the stomach.
The process takes about 20 to 30 minutes but they can be required to stay in the restraint chair for up to two hours until a chest x-ray confirms the nutrient has reached their stomach.
The prisoner is then removed from restraint chair to “dry cell” where they are observed by a guard for up to an hour “for any indication of vomiting or attempts to induce vomiting”. If they do vomit, they are returned to the restraint chair for the entire duration of the observation period in subsequent feeds.
If they bite the tube, the guards hold their head still for “as long as necessary for the detainee to relax his jaw.”
The passages above are from a Guardian article today which primarily discussed the problems with force-feeding hunger strikers during Ramadan, and, specifically, complaints by Muslim organizations. The article quoted Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest US Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, who said, “We believe it’s wrong to force feed at any time but it is particularly upsetting to do it through Ramadan.” He added, “It’s not just a religious issue, it’s also a human rights issue in violation of international norms and medical ethics.”
Dr. Azzam Tamimi, a Muslim community leader in the UK, also spoke out. “As Ramadan starts, this issue is becoming increasingly embarrassing for the US government,” he said, adding, “it’s about time President Obama took a brave decision to end this in a way that would be appreciated around the Islamic world.”
As the Guardian explained, “Other religious groups have also spoken out against the practice,” explaining that, last month, Bishop Richard Pates, the chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to Chuck Hagel, the defence secretary, in which he pointed out that the International Committee of the Red Cross opposes force-feeding, and urged, “Rather than resorting to such measures, our nation should first do everything it can to address the conditions of despair that have led to this protest.”
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.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, now back in the States several cities are starting to fight over who gets the contracts to build/host Obama’s Presidential library. Innocent Muslims are being tortured (esp. during Ramadan in the most insulting way possible), and all you care about is who gets the damn millions in profit from a war criminal’s library?
Thanks, Tom. I hadn’t even heard about the bidding for the Presidential Library. There is a parallel reality, for sure – the same one in which Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize.
Don’t forget to check out Reprieve’s “Stand Fast for Justice” website – with prisoner profiles, Twitter addresses for US politicians, and instructions on hunger striking in solidarity with the prisoners: http://www.standfastforjustice.org/
On Facebook, Natashja de Wolf wrote:
not easy to watch … but a must anyway
Thanks, Natashja. It is a must-watch. Mos Def (Yasiin) is to be commended for his honesty. Not many famous people would voluntarily undergo something like this.
Sandy Maliga wrote:
Keep talking about this. Guantanamo goes on and on. Nothing changes.
Yes, Sandy. Sadly, talking about it incessantly is as necessary now as it was when I began my work on Guantanamo over seven years ago. People still need to know what is being done in their names. I understand the urge to hide from unpleasant truths, but the horror doesn’t go away by being ignored.
Lindis Percy wrote:
Goodness this is horrific. I was a nurse once. In training I volunteered to have a naso-gastric tube passed into my stomach so as to experience what it was like. I wasn’t strapped in and it wasn’t forced into the nose and down into the stomach. The procedure was explained to me. It was done gently, kindly.and skillfully. I later passed many naso-gastric tubes when I qualified. It is a skillful process and you have to know what you are doing – making sure the tube is passed into the stomach not lungs. For if you put liquid into the tube it goes into the lungs and that can be fatal. I understand that this has happened to a detainee in Guantanamo – may be happened to several. It is highly dangerous. This is an incredibly powerful and awful film. WHAT is Barack Obama doing? He could close Guantanamo NOW.
Thanks, Lindis. I hope you saw that I posted the recording of my talk at Menwith Hill, thanked you for inviting me, and wrote a little about what a wonderful event it was: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/07/07/audio-andy-worthington-speaks-about-guantanam-at-the-independence-from-america-protest-at-raf-menwith-hill-july-4-2013/
Thanks also for your reflections on enteral feeding. I have heard on several occasions about the tubes being inserted incorrectly – including being forced into prisoners’ lungs, and I do wonder how the prisoners have survived all these years.
Lindis Percy wrote:
Great pleasure to meet you Andy – just to add if I may – it is important to refer to all US bases as either USAF, NSA Menwith Hill or JAC (Molesworth) etc etc. We need to say it as it is and not continue the myth and deceit that they are RAF bases.
I take your point about what the bases should be called, Lindis, for future reference! (when I post my photos – soon, hopefully)
Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:
Thanks, Andy for posting, and Lindis, yes, a classmate who was a nurse for some years has told me much the same thing. At Guantanamo they are also using larger tubes which make an already invasive and distressing experience all the worse at the physical level…and the psychological effects of these repeated violations of the self belong to an entirely different level of intrusion. It’s appalling and must be met with strong condemnation from the entire world. I wish my fellow citizens would speak louder.
Thanks, Diana. I’m very much hoping that Mos Def/Yasiin’s very visible pain will provide people with some sort of insight into what has been happening to the men at Guantanamo. How much pain must they be in, and how have some of them coped with having this done to them twice a day for years?
Lindis Percy wrote:
Also.. re the row of upside down US flags that Andy mentioned….CAAB has used the upside down US flag as a symbol of protest for many years. We write a polite message and in fact it was an American friend who suggested we do ‘turn the flag upside down’. It is used as an international sign of distress and the American Inuit people always turn it up side down so we are in support of them. I had to go to the High Court London after appealing a District Judge’s decision to convict after using it at the base called the Deep Space Facility and Near Space Tracking Center at Feltwell (small but significant US base on the Suffolk/Norfolk border). We were successful and the case is on the CAAB website.
Thanks again, Lindis. I found it very powerful because I know how offensive many Americans find the desecration of their flag to be. For a powerful use of an upside down US flag, I recommend “In the Valley of Elah,” the extremely powerful anti-Iraq war film featuring a towering performance by Tommy Lee Jones.
Another angle on this are recent comments on Manning, Snowden and Obama by Oliver Stone. He’s still pushing his “Untold History of the US” TV series worldwide. Someone asked him about this in a recent interview.
Essentially he said, can you name one other director who’s consistently stuck his neck out for his beliefs, and been constantly attacked by the right? Is that just a huge ego and a global press release talking? No. Someone who’s dared to dissent based on verifiable facts, and not just opinions? Many other directors play it safe and help at times to frankly put out propaganda. Why do we need North Korean villains in “Olympus Has Fallen”? Did some studio marketing person say we can’t use the Russians, Chinese or Muslims as terrorists anymore. I know! Let’s use North Koreans. That’s still trending on Twitter.
I don’t know all of the UK coverage. But here instead of dealing with actual facts and the issues it’s just endless celeb hype.
I suppose we should be relieved that it wasn’t Iranians, Tom, but yet again the media seem to demonstrate that corporations can put anything in front of them and they’ll then obsessively cover it – so long as it’s not too “contentious.” Then again, either the corporations own the media, or they demand fawning coverage to maintain access to their “stars.”
It’s a dismal betrayal of what real journalism is supposed to be about, but I think it’s pretty much endless celebrity hype here in the UK too, with fluff big on the menu even at places that pride themselves on their serious political coverage.
Jacqui Stewart wrote:
same sort of thing that happened with the suffragettes
Thanks, Jacqui, for that historical reminder. It’s important to remember who has been targeted before!
Carol Brown wrote:
Jacqui you’re right. It was just before the ‘Cat & Mouse’ Act. Andy, I don’t feel ready to watch, sorry. It reminds me too much of being very ill in hospital. You’re doing a great job though!
Don’t worry, Carol. No one should be obliged to watch it. I just think it will be useful for some people who have never thought before about what it means to have a tube pushed up your nose and into your stomach, and then to have liquid nutrient pumped through it.
J.d. Gordon wrote:
The actual tube is quite smaller @ Gitmo. Nice acting job by Mos Def, too bad it’s for propaganda meant to help release Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who have already KILLED thousands of innocent people in terrorist attacks and systematic murders in Afghanistan at the hands of Taliban leaders. Though the written description is quite misleading in the linked Daily Mail piece, at least the photo is correct of the ACTUAL tube. BTW, it’s the same exact procedure used in prisons and mental hospitals around the world to preserve life and prevent martyrs. aka “zeros who wannabe heroes.”
Ryan Hunt wrote:
J.D. Gordon: It’s hard for me to understand, if this is your attitude and view on things, why you want to be Andy’s fb friend in the first place, unless it’s simply to pester him/us or to have a forum to spread your views.
In any event, when you make the (completely unsubstantiated) claim that force-feeding at Guantanamo is “the same exact procedure used in prisons and mental hospitals around the world to preserve life and prevent martyrs,” it makes me wonder if you’ve ever heard of the World Medical Association’s 1991 “Declaration of Malta” (link: http://bit.ly/oCohpC).
Here is Gudeline 13, quoted from the above link: “Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the forced feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting.”
In a nutshell, force-feeding of competent hunger-striking prisoners is in direct contravention of prevailing international standards of medical ethics, and in countries that take such things seriously, is grounds at least for loss of one’s license, if not an investigation by a professional board.
Sunset Hues wrote:
J.D. Gordon = Judge, jury and executioner.
Ryan Hunt wrote:
Hmmm…. Somehow I doubt the “J.D.” stands for “Juris Doctor,” though…
Sunset Hues wrote:
Definitely ain’t “Just Delightful”.
Thanks for the link to the World Medical Association’s 1991 “Declaration of Malta,” Ryan, and the pertinent quote from it. It turns out that the US authorities regard something described as “never ethically acceptable” as being as flexible as the UN Convention Against Torture is regarding torture. Article 2.2 states, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Try squaring that with US actions!
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, this video should disturb anyone. Forced feeding is grotesque. Anyone ordering this should be forced to watch. But in this case he was able to tell them when to stop. They were not using the oversized tube and it did not have the metal tips that are now used twice a day in Guantanamo. It would seem that as well as keeping people on hunger strike alive there is a vengeful inflicting of punishment that goes way outside the normal duties of a medical worker, nurse or doctor. Fear=Cruelty? I don’t know. They live in another universe to the one I inhabit.
Willy, “They live in another universe to the one I inhabit” is a very powerful identification with a common humanity – our common humanity – that has been excised from Guantanamo, that secretive corner of Cuba, run by America, where, since January 11, 2002, decency has been removed from all the “Standard Operating Procedures.” There does seem to be cruelty, but there also seem to be many of the obedient workers who fuel every bestial regime – the medical personnel “just following orders.” Ahmed Belbacha described it well here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/07/03/in-court-submission-hunger-striker-ahmed-belbacha-tells-obama-end-the-nightmare-that-is-guantanamo/
Good on Yasiin.
Other celebrity-Guantanamo related news — there is going to be a Hollywood film entitled “Camp X-Ray” released in 2014, about a GI who befriends a captive. The guard is going to be played by Kristen Stewart, which might not seem promising for those who would hope this would be a serious film.
I looked up the director, Peter Sattler, and saw why I had never heard of him before. He had directed a single short, and had been a “graphic designer” on ten films, and an “on set dresser” on two films, a camera man and a grip. He has no other writing credit than that short.
Here is a spoiler quote from the IMDB’s synopsis page:
“While serving her country to the best of her abilities at Bravo Block, she is also subject to the attempted affections of her superior officer, Sergeant Randy without any action or sympathy from Commanding Officer Colonel Drummond at Gitmo.”
Sergeant Randy makes the unwanted passes? Really?
Oh dear. That sounds bad.
The option is there for a powerful indictment of Guantanamo – as when Brandon Neely found himself discussing rap music with the Tipton Three, and getting on with them, and realized that they couldn’t possibly be the hardened terrorists he’s been told that all the prisoners were, who would kill him given a moment’s opportunity. Perhaps all the former guards who recognized that they were lied to should write to the film’s producers.
Commander Gordon, thank you for repeating a widely expressed untruth — that ‘…it’s the same exact procedure used in prisons and mental hospitals around the world to preserve life and prevent martyrs. aka “zeros who wannabe heroes.”’
While this is widely repeated it isn’t remotely close to being true. The US Bureau of Prisons does occasionally force-feed patients. But, following the Bureau of Prisons procedures a judge has to sign off first, after he or she determines the force-feeding does not constitute “cruel and unusual treatment”.
You write “The actual tube is quite smaller @ Gitmo.” Commander Gordon, I think you will find that most members of the public would think that as a public information officer you had an obligation not to utter patent falsehoods solely to protect the careers or reputations of other officers. We heard this crap about the Guantanamo medical staff using standard sized tubes back in 2005, when we were also hearing reports from the captives that they had used over-size tubes. Eventually the chief medical officer clarified his position. Medical staff had used the standard small feeding tubes — until they ran out, when they fell back to tubes 2 mm larger, and when they ran out of those they had to fall back to using tubes that were an additional 2mm larger.
So, the captives had been telling the truth, all along. And the public affairs officers who assured the public that the captives were lying were the ones who had been putting forward untruths.
I am going to repeat, I think the public expects public affairs officers to be informed, so they don’t inadvertently put forward falsehoods. You wrote: “Nice acting job by Mos Def, too bad it’s for propaganda meant to help release Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who have already KILLED thousands of innocent people in terrorist attacks and systematic murders in Afghanistan at the hands of Taliban leaders.”
A small fraction of the 779 men held in Guantanamo played a role in atrocities, like killing innocent people. Is anyone here arguing for the release of any of that small fraction of the captives for whom there is meaningful evidence they played a role in atrocities, like killing innocent people? I don’t think so.
There is an important principle we should all have been taught before kindergarden. You should have been taught this principle. In case you have forgotten I am going to repeat it. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
In the Guantanamo context no amount of atrocities committed by Taliban or al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan or elsewhere justifies the USA committing atrocities on the captives. Any self-respecting ethicist will tell you the principle that two wrongs don’t make a right meant JTF-GTMO forces should never have used their positions to get some unofficial payback even from the most obvious handful of genuine villains. There are primitive childish people who would be prepared to get some unofficial payback from captives who might have been innocent civilian bystanders just because they were muslims, who were at their mercy. Sadists like this should never have been allowed into the US military.
Remember two wrongs don’t make a right.
Andy has read the OARDEC documents. So have I. I think he and I reached the same conclusions as to what fraction of the captives were exactly the innocent civilian bystanders they had claimed to be when they weren’t subjected to extreme interrogation techniques. I think about half the captives were completely innocent. There were quite a few CSR Tribunal transcripts where captives who had been hapless Taliban conscripts, or foreigners who volunteered to help the Taliban in its civil war with the Northern Alliance, who claimed they weren’t combatants, because they never fired a shot, and ran away and deserted as soon as they learned the USA had sided with the Northern Alliance. Technically, pulling a single shift of Taliban sentry duty, probably made those individuals combatants, even if they never fired a shot. But it certainly doesn’t make them responsible for Taliban or al Qaeda atrocities.
If you didn’t read any of the OARDEC documents for yourself, during all the years you spent at Guantanamo, when you had an obligation to be properly informed, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to go to the NYTimes Guantanamo Docket, and start reading them now. No fair-minded person could read those transcripts, and not concede that a large fraction of the captives had been completely innocent civilian bystanders all along.
Commander Gordon, when you served as a public affairs officers, didn’t you work to obfuscate and cover up atrocities? Didn’t you and your colleagues repeatedly claim, at every opportunity, that JTF-GTMO operated humanely? I suggest this was a betrayal of the US public. I suggest this was a betrayal of public safety.
I suggest you had an obligation to know that in practice Guantanamo was nothing more than a shockingly incompetently factory for manufacturing very wasteful wild goose chases.
Wild goose chases are very profitable for professional alarmists, private sector think tanks, and mercenary agencies like Blackwater. But they are very damaging to public safety, because every counter-terrorism dollar squandered on a wild goose chase is a counter-terrorism dollar that was not available to protect the public against a real threat.
Commander Gordon, now that you are in the private sector, aren’t you one of those professional alarmists taking advantage of the atmosphere of unnecessary alarm due to the incompetence and complete absence of responsible sanity-checking in the US counter-terrorism establishment? Aren’t you doing so at great cost to public safety?
Thank you, arcticredriver, for that very powerful rebuke to J.D. Gordon’s distortions and lies. I had hoped someone would do exactly what you did, as I had neither the time nor the energy to revisit such tired old battles against propagandists.
Your historical information about force-feeding is very important, and suggests to me that either through cruelty designed to “break” the strike, or a lack of the right tools (and remember, everything at Guantanamo has to be shipped in, or flown in, from the US mainland, including feeding tubes), the force-feeding does involve larger tubes, as the prisoners have been explaining. I can also see no reason to doubt the claim that there are metal tips on the tubes.
You also make very good points about the wildly distorted claim about the number of prisoners involved in any sort of killing, and back it up powerfully.
I would only add that I think it was also out of order for J.D. Gordon to claim that Yasiin was acting, when it did not appear that way at all.
Willy Bach wrote, in response to 29, above:
Andy, yes language so sanitised that humanity is completely absent from the minds of obedient medical personnel who are “just following orders.” But they aren’t, they go beyond their orders to inflict further suffering and humiliation as though exercising the little bit of power they have to make it worse for the abductees. I hope none of these people is ever re-hired in civilian life to administer medicine – but they will be, we know that.
The bomber crews over Laos talked about high survivability, which referred to the absence of anti-aircraft guns and missiles, not the peasants below. The crews couldn’t wait to get back to the mess and brag about the destruction they had achieved over a few beers. They all act as though Nuremberg never happened.
Thanks again, Willy. You capture perfectly how dehumanizing the enemy and attributing righteousness to one’s own side is so important in war. What disturbs me is how, as time has gone on, the US and other Western powers still love waging war, but have now reached a point where massive casualties on our own side are no longer viewed as acceptable. “High survivability” wasn’t the norm during Vietnam, but now of course we have drones – regarded as the perfect way to kill the enemy from afar without even running the risk of losing any of “our own.”
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
This is really sad. It´s good that the world is waking up to the extent of the control the US government believe they are entitled to. What they do today is not much different from what happened in concentration camps ran by SS.
The cruelty is more clinical, Toia, with death less as the objective than it was under the Nazis, replaced by a kind of living death. And it’s evidently far more prolonged, as this wretched experiment in torture shows no sign of coming to an end. It really is quite simple, though: Guantanamo was set up to be outside the law, and to be a place where torture was allowed, and it’s not fundamentally changed, and nor can it be. It must be closed. There is no other option.
Zoon Imran wrote:
Thanx Andy … i will just post it on my wall … thank you for all that you do & GOD bless !!!
You’re welcome, Zoon!
Laura Geraghty wrote:
That was a very good film
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Yes this is excellent.. found it hard to watch, degrading, painful, dehumanizing!
Thanks, Laura and Carol. Good to hear from you both. I am so glad to see this video making waves, and I’m sure some people are seeing it, and being shocked, who hadn’t previously given much thought to it.
Olga Franiak wrote:
Oh my god, I’ve just seen the video. Can’t stop shaking.
Yes, it’s very powerful, isn’t it, Olga? It really brings it home.
Olga Franiak wrote:
And it’s really needed. I’ve been taking an interest in Gitmo from the very beginning: calling to the US Embassy, writing letters, e-mails, reading and talking about it at loud. Then I saw your film and heard you and Omar in Krakow. And this again – it gives more power to fight for the case. Keep up your good work Andy! All the best!
Thanks, Olga. Really good to hear from you, and to hear that you came to one of the screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo” as part of the Polish tour put together by my friend Anna two and a half years ago. It was actually with Moazzam Begg, but Omar Deghayes is always with me in spirit when I do Guantanamo events – and of course when the film is shown he’s with us, as he’s such a big part of it – the heart of it, in fact!
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