Guantánamo “An Endless Horror Movie”: Hunger Striker Appeals for Help to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

8.4.15

Muaz al-Alawi (aka Moath al-Alwi), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In the long struggle for justice at Guantánamo — a prison intended at its founding, 13 years ago, to be beyond the law — there have been few occasions when any outside body has been able to exert any meaningful pressure on the US regarding the imprisonment, mostly without charge or trial, of the men held there.

One exception is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

The IACHR has long taken an interest in Guantánamo (as this page on their website explains), and three years ago delivered a powerful ruling in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian who was still held despite being approved for release (a situation currently faced by 56 of the 122 men still held).

In Ameziane’s case, his lawyers, at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), stated in a press release that the ruling marked “the first time the IACHR has accepted jurisdiction over the case of a man detained at Guantánamo, and underscores the fact that there has been no effective domestic remedy available to victims of unjust detentions and other abuses at the base.”

Ameziane was finally released from Guantánamo in December 2013, although he was sent home to Algeria, against his will.

In February, lawyers for another Guantánamo prisoner, Muaz al-Alawi, identified in Guantánamo as Moath al-Alwi, submitted a petition requesting the IACHR to “issue precautionary measures to end his indefinite detention.” Regular readers may recognise al-Alawi’s story, as I have written about him before — when his habeas corpus petition was denied in 2011 (in an article aptly entitled, “Guantánamo and the Death of Habeas Corpus”), during the prison-wide hunger strike in 2013, and last year, via the New York Times.

The lawyers — interns and supervising attorneys at City University of New York School of Law — stated in the petition:

During his detainment at Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi has been systematically tortured and isolated. He has been denied contact with his family, slandered and stigmatized around the globe. He has been denied an opportunity to develop a trade or skill, to meet a partner or start a family. He has been physically abused, only to have medical treatment withheld. Throughout this intense suffering, Mr. al-Alwi has never had a fair trial. Rather, he was tortured by the U.S. and coerced into making statements that were later used against him in court. After a trial ridden with procedural and evidentiary flaws, U.S. federal courts denied his habeas corpus petition in 2011. Thirteen years after he was originally brought to Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi remains detained, awaiting a resolution to his indefinite detention without charge or fair process.

Since February 2013, Mr. al-Alwi has participated in his most recent hunger strike. Frustrated by his continued detainment, on April 2013, Mr. al-Alwi escalated his protest by even rejecting water. At the time, Mr. al-Alwi was among the sixteen detainees who were force-fed by prison authorities at Guantánamo. As this Petition and Request for Precautionary Measures is filed, Mr. al-Alwi continues this hunger strike and fully intends to keep up his protest until he is free. He has vowed to “not eat or drink until [he] die[s], if necessary, to protest the injustice of this place …” As of February 2015, Mr. al-Alwi is still held in solitary confinement and subject to regular force-feeding.

Additionally, in April 2013, a U.S. Army guard has shot Mr. al-Alwi, without reason, multiple times at close range, striking his chest, left thigh, left elbow, and shoulder.

He has yet to receive adequate medical care for these gunshot wounds.

Accordingly, Mr. al-Alwi faces irreparable harm at Guantánamo and respectfully requests this Commission to issue precautionary measures to end his indefinite detention.

Al-Alawi’s petition was, rather shamefully, barely covered by any media outlets. An exception was The Intercept, where Murtaza Hussain picked out some highlights from the petition, noting firstly that he weighs just 98 pounds and lost 70 pounds in weight between February and December 2013 — and prompting me, yet again, to think that, if a single photo of al-Alawi or a similarly emaciated prisoner were to be leaked, the resulting outrage might speed the closure of Guantánamo.

Hussain also noted that al-Alawi’s lawyers describe how his “mental and physical state is seriously deteriorating after two years on hunger strike, and subsequent force-feeding,” and point out that he has stated that, since he embarked on the hunger strike in February 2013, he “has been subjected to escalating physical and psychological abuse from guards, as well as increasingly brutal force-feeding procedures administered by medical personnel.”

Explaining that al-Alawi has described his strike as “a form of peaceful protest against injustice,” the lawyers also note that prison officials “have responded to his hunger strike by placing him in solitary confinement, denying him access to prescribed medical items and subjecting him to extreme temperatures in his cell,” as The Intercept described it.

Although a Guantánamo spokesperson claimed that the medical care received by prisoners at Guantánamo “is on the same level as that provided to U.S. Service members serving here,” the lawyers contend that their client’s nasal passages have “swelled shut due to the extra large tubes prison authorities have repeatedly forced down his nasal cavity” during the force-feeding process,” and also state that the force-feeding sessions “have led to heavy vomiting and daily blood loss.”

In addition, because he is shackled to a chair for many hours every day, while being force-fed, al-Alawi “now suffers severe back pain and other debilitating physical injuries.”

And yet, what he — and other force-fed prisoners — are calling for is simply to be treated humanely. As he has stated, “Tube-feed us humanely. There is no need to use the restraint chair and the riot squads.” During a visit with his lawyers in January, he also said, “It is really bewildering. I weigh less than 100 pounds. I wear braces on both ankles, and both wrists, and one around my lower back. I am five foot five … and they claim that I am ‘resisting’ and that they have to unleash a full riot squad of six giants to move me. How can I possibly resist anyone, let alone these men?”

The title of this article, via Murtaza Hussain, comes from Muaz al-Alawi’s own words, describing Guantánamo as “an endless horror story.”

The petition also describes much more about how he was shot in April 2013:

On April 12, 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross competed a three-week visit to Guantánamo, meeting with detainees and assessing conditions after nearly a month of hunger striking by a majority of the detainees. A day later, armed guards flooded Mr. al-Alwi’s communal cellblock and physically assaulted and opened fire on the detainees. Mr. al-Alwi was preparing for dawn prayers at the time when a U.S. Army guard appeared in front of him on the other side of a wire-link fence in a small recreation area near his cellblock. From a distance of two to three feet, with no provocation, and without prior warning, a guard shot Mr. al-Alwi multiple times with rubber-coated steel bullets.

The first pellets hit the left part of his chest, above and below Mr. al-Alwi’s heart. As he fled the area for safety, the guard continued to shoot at him and struck him in the front of his left thigh, left elbow, and the back of his right shoulder. Mr. al-Alwi suffered immense pain from these shots. When he was finally away from the guard, Mr. al-Alwi realized that his clothes were soaked in blood and torn from the intensity of the rounds that struck him. The wounds close to Mr. al-Alwi’s heart were also badly swollen.

Since being shot, Mr. al-Alwi has been placed in solitary confinement and has escalated his hunger strike in protest.

It is not known when the IACHR will issue its ruling, but I hope it will be soon. As a prisoner not approved for release, but not facing prosecution either, Muaz al-Alawi is one of 56 remaining prisoners whose only other route out of Guantánamo is, conceivably, via a Periodic Review Board, a process established in 2013, which, to date, has involved reviews of the cases of 13 prisoners, approving eight men for release, and recommending four others for ongoing imprisonment — with one other case yet to be decided. The process is slow, and, although two men have been freed, the majority approved for release have not. Yemenis, like Muaz al-Alawi, they join 43 of their fellow countrymen who are still held despite being approved for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

A supportive ruling for Muaz al-Alawi might, therefore, be useful in pushing the US to follow through on its decisions regarding the Yemenis, which remains something of a disgrace, even though 12 Yemenis cleared for release were — finally — freed and rehoused in third countries at the end of last year and the start of this.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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 six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “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, the full military commissions 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.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. It’s good to be back writing, but I’d be lying if I pretended that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my week off with my family! Thanks, as ever, for your interest in my writing and in the ongoing injustice of Guantanamo.

  2. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy.

    May I add that this crackdown came after the brutal war criminal Colonel John Bogdan took control of the guard force.

    There are weapons the military calls “less than lethal weapons”. There are shotgun shells that fire bean-bags, instead of loose shot. That is probably what the steel bullets were — or something similar. The thing about these less than lethal munitions — they aren’t supposed to be fired at point blank range. They are meant to be used by riot cops, firing at a crowd that is a certain distance away. If I recall correctly ten or fifteen meters is considered the minimum safe distance.

    The guard who shot al Alwi would have been trained about this minimum distance. It sounds like brutal Bogdan briefed his men to ignore the mininum safe distance.

    I think it is unlikely Bogdan will ever face the war crimes charges he richly deserves.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for providing those details, arcticredriver. It reminds me of what Joe Hickman told me back in 2010 about being ordered to shoot non-lethal rounds, from a very close distance, at prisoners in Camp 4 who had allegedly started a riot. This happened a few months before the alleged suicides in June 2006.
    That was a very disturbing time in Guantanamo’s history, as was Geoffrey Miller’s tenure, of course, and when Bogdan was warden it was another low point. What I can’t quite ascertain is where in the chain of command these decisions originated.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:

    More torture, courtesy of the USA, thanks to Andy Worthington for this story. A very good idea to appeal to decent nations of Central and South America for the suffering of Guantanamo abductees.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Willy. Very good to hear from you.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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