My New Article for Al Jazeera English: The Struggle to Stop the Trump Administration’s Potentially Deadly Neglect of Guantánamo Hunger Strikers

An image of Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at the lawyer-led international human rights organization Reprieve.I’m delighted to report that Al Jazeera English have just published an article I wrote for them, Guantánamo detainee: US changed force-feeding policy, which I hope you have time to read, and will share if you find it informative.

The article came out of the shocking news announced by the human rights organization Reprieve six weeks ago, when they reported that they had been told that the authorities at Guantánamo were no longer force-feeding long-term hunger strikers, as had been happening for ten years — an announcement that I wrote about at the time in an article entitled, Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death.

Force-feeding is akin to torture, as medical experts have long established, but, as I have been mentioning since this story broke, it surely cannot be acceptable for men who have been held for up to 16 years without ever being charged or tried to be allowed to starve to death, and there should, therefore, be another response, one sought by the prisoners themselves, who are asking either to be charged or released, a not unreasonable request after so long. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene Condemns “Cruel, Sadistic” New Policy of Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve

Former Guantanamo prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

It’s nearly a month since Guantánamo thrust its way back into the public consciousness with news from the human rights organization Reprieve that, under a new chief medical officer at Guantánamo, the rules for treating long-term hunger strikers had changed. Where, previously, those going without food were force-fed when they lost a fifth of their body weight, two hunger strikers — Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim, clients of Reprieve — indicated that, since the new appointment, on September 20, they were no longer being force-fed, and were not even being monitored.

Following further phone discussions with their clients, Reprieve suggested that what was happening was that prisoners were being left to suffer whatever damage might ensue from prolonged starving, but the medical authorities were still intending to force-feed them if it looked like they might die.

Force-feeding is a horrible process, of course, akin to torture, but although medical experts insist that mentally competent prisoners must be allowed to starve themselves to death, if they wish, that does not strike me as relevant at Guantánamo, where the men on hunger strike have never been tried or convicted of any crime, and allowing them to die would actually endorse the very reason they are hunger striking in the first place — because they are being held without charge or trial, with no end in sight to their preposterously long ordeal, and they have no other way of protesting about the injustice of their predicament. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

“When Will My Organs Fail? When Will My Heart Stop?”: Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Fears Death Under Trump’s New Policy

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

It’s eleven days since prisoners at Guantánamo, represented by the human rights organization Reprieve, reminded a forgetful world of the never-ending injustice of the prison. Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani prisoner, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both long-term hunger strikers, told their lawyers that, since September 20, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I wrote about the plight of the hunger strikers — and Donald Trump’s disturbing new policy — in an article last Saturday, but at the time the rest of the world’s mainstream media showed no interest in it. It took another four days for the New York Times to report on the story, and even then Charlie Savage accepted assurances from the US authorities that “an 11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect,” an assertion that I regard as untrustworthy, because the US military has a long track record of being untrustworthy when it comes to telling the truth about Guantánamo.

Last Thursday, Reprieve followed up on its initial reporting by securing an op-ed in Newsweek by Ahmed Rabbani, entitled, “Dear President Trump, Close Guantánamo Bay and Give Us a Fair Trial”, which I reported here, and on Friday the Guardian gave Khalid Qassim the opportunity to comment. His article, “I am in Guantánamo Bay. The US government is starving me to death,” is cross-posted below, and I hope you have time to read it, and will share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Finally Reports on Trump’s Policy of Letting Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Die; Rest of Mainstream Media Still Silent

An image of Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at the lawyer-led international human rights organization Reprieve.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

So today, five days after the lawyer-led human rights organization Reprieve issued a press release, about how two of their clients had told them that, since September 20, prisoners on a long-term hunger strike were no longer being force-fed, and four days after I reported it (exclusively, as it turned out), the New York Times emerged as the first — and so far only — mainstream media outlet to cover the story, although even so its headline was easy to ignore: “Military Is Waiting Longer Before Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers, Detainees Say.”

As Charlie Savage described it, military officials at Guantánamo “recently hardened their approach to hunger-striking prisoners,” according to accounts given by prisoners to their lawyers, “and are allowing protesters to physically deteriorate beyond a point that previously prompted medical intervention to force-feed them.”

“For years,” Savage continued, “the military has forcibly fed chronic protesters when their weight dropped too much. Detainees who refuse to drink a nutritional supplement have been strapped into a restraint chair and had the supplement poured through their noses and into their stomachs via nasogastric tubes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death

A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

Disturbing news from Guantánamo, via the human rights organization Reprieve. Yesterday, in a press release, Reprieve explained that the authorities at Guantánamo have stopped force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners, a practice that has existed for ten years, because of a new Trump administration policy.”

Hunger strikers have existed at Guantánamo almost since the prison opened, and in 2013 a prison-wide hunger strike drew worldwide condemnation for President Obama’s inaction in moving towards closing the prison, as he had promised on his second day in office. Inconvenienced by Republican lawmakers, who had raised considerable obstacles to the release of prisoners, Obama had chosen not to challenge the Republicans, and had, instead, done nothing. The hunger strike changed all that, but towards the end of 2013, after the release of prisoners resumed, the authorities at Guantánamo stopped reporting the numbers of men who were on a hunger strike.

According to Reprieve, since that time, some prisoners have continued with their hunger strikes, “peacefully protesting a lack of charges or a trial,” although very little has been heard about them, with just one example reported in recent years — that of Sharqawi al-Hajj, a Yemeni held without charge or trial at Guantánamo since September 2004, whose case I reported on last month, when he weighed just 104 pounds, and when, after he refused to submit to being force-fed, he “lost consciousness and required emergency hospitalization.” Read the rest of this entry »

After Four-Year Legal Struggle, Judges Support Government Claims That Videotapes of Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Remain Secret

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

On Friday, in the appeals court in Washington, D.C., judges appear to have brought to an unsatisfactory end a four-year struggle to make public videotapes of prisoners at Guantánamo — and specifically Jihad Dhiab (aka Diyab), a Syrian, also known as Abu Wa’el Dhiab — being force-fed and violently extracted from their cells.

The case, as explained in a detailed timeline on the website of Reprieve, began in June 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike that year, which attracted international opposition to President Obama’s lack of activity in releasing prisoners and working towards fulfilling the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

I also covered the case extensively at the time — see my archive here, here, here and here (which included Dhiab’s release to Uruguay and subsequent struggle to adapt to his new life), ending with an appeal court ruling in May 2015, when the D.C. Circuit Court refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes, and a rebuke to the government in July 2015, by Judge Gladys Kessler in the federal court, who had initially ordered the release of the tapes, and who “ordered the government to stop wasting time with ‘frivolous’ appeals against her rulings,” and to release the tapes. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Oman, Leaving 45 Men Still Held, Including Nine Approved for Release?

The ten prisoners released from Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2017. Top, from L to R: Abdul Zahir (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Mohammed al-Ansi, Mohammed Ahmed Said Haidel (aka Muhammed Ahmad Said Haydar), Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i and Musa’ab al-Madhwani (aka Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani). Bottom, from L to R: Bostan Karim (aka Karim Bostan) (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Ghaleb al-Bihani, Mustafa al-Shamiri, Walid Said Bin Said Zaid and Hail al-Maythali (aka Hayil al-Maythali). All the photos are from the files leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2011 except the photo of al-Bihani, which was taken by the International Red Cross, and made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo during the first two months of the incoming Trump administration.

 

So there was great news from Guantánamo on Monday, when ten men — eight Yemenis and two Afghans — were released and sent to Oman, which has previously taken in 20 Yemenis. The Yemenis have been the most difficult category of prisoners to be freed from Guantánamo, because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, fearing the security situation in their home country, meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home — and are prepared to overlook the fact that the US itself is unwilling to do that, and, in fact, that Congress has, for many years, passed laws specifically preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.

The ten releases leave 45 men still held at Guantánamo, with three or four more releases expected before President Obama leaves office on Friday, according to the latest reports. At present, however, nine men approved for release are still held, and the release of those left behind when Obama leaves the White House must be a priority for campaigners as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

Of the ten men released, two were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office, while the other eight were approved for release between May 2014 and December 2016 by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level, inter-agency review process, and one that campaigners must also press Donald Trump to keep. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Interview on 15th Anniversary of Guantánamo Opening: US Government “Lied to Their Own People to Let Their Soldiers Accept Torturing Us”

Andy Worthington with Shaker Aamer, after his release from Guantanamo, at a meeting in the House of Commons in November 2015.Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 15th anniversary of its opening, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

Regular readers will know that I have had a long involvement in the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015 after a long campaign to secure his release, which involved MPs, the mainstream British media, and protest groups including We Stand With Shaker, the organization I co-founded in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, which used a giant inflatable figure of Shaker to highlight his cause, with some quite spectacular success in the media, and with celebrities and MPs.

Since his release, I have maintained contact with Shaker, and, in October, was delighted when he agreed to make a short video for the Close Guantánamo campaign — another organization I co-founded — which is posted below.

Apart from a flurry of activity immediately after his release, Shaker has had little involvement with the media this year, although his words always have resonance, so I was delighted to see, a few days ago, that he had spoken to Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Four Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Saudi Arabia, Leaving 55 Men Still Held?

The four prisoners released from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia in January 2017. From L to R: Mohammed Rajab Abu Ghanim, Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bawazir, Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad and Abdullah Yahia Yousef al Shabli.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my work on Guantánamo over the next two months.

 

Good news from Guantánamo, as four men have been released to Saudi Arabia, reducing the prison’s population to 55, the lowest number since its opening weeks 15 years ago.

The four men are Yemeni citizens — although one was born in Saudi Arabia, but to Yemeni parents, meaning that he was not given citizenship. A third country had to be found that was prepared to take them in, because the entire US establishment agrees that it is unsafe, from a security perspective, to repatriate any Yemenis. The men will go through Saudi Arabia’s well-established rehabilitation program, although, to be honest, it is obvious upfront that none of these men can be regarded as a threat.

Two were approved for release by President Obama’s cautious, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, while the other two were approved for release more recently by the latest inter-agency review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which consider the prisoners’ cases in a manner similar to parole boards — except, of course, for the crucial fact that the men in question have never been convicted of any crimes.

The first of the four, whose case has rarely been discussed, is Abdullah Yahia Yousef al Shabli (ISN 240), who, according to US records, was born in Jeddah on September 10, 1977. Al-Shabli was approved for release by the task force in 2009, but is one of 30 men the task force placed in a category of their own invention, “conditional detention,” which was only supposed to end when someone — it was not determined who, or how — established that the security situation in Yemen had improved. As I explained in August, when 12 Yemenis were released in the UAE, “those in the ‘conditional detention’ group languished until the Obama administration began finding countries that would offer new homes to them, a process that only began last November and that, before [the August] releases, had led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia.” Six of the 12 Yemenis freed in August were from the “conditional detention group,” and with the two releases to Saudi Arabia from this group, just three men from this group are left — plus another two men from the 126 other men approved for release by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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