The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers


I’m posting below an essay about Guantánamo, written as a school project by Sammie Killmer, a sixth-grade schoolgirl in Denver, Colorado, who understands more about Guantánamo and the men held there than most adults in a position of influence in the United States.

This is not coincidental, as her father is Darold Killmer, an attorney whose law firm represents five prisoners still in Guantánamo: Musa’ab Omar Al Madhwani (ISN 839), Abdul Rahman Al Qyati (ISN 461), Sa’ad Al Azani (ISN 575), Jalal Salim Bin Amer (ISN 564) and Suhail Abdu Anam (ISN 569) [see here, here and here for more information about these men]. However, as Darold explained to me in an email, “The teacher’s assignment asked the kids to write an opinion piece on an issue that interested them. Sammie chose Gitmo … All of the work is her own, from information that she and I have talked about over the years, from individual research she did, and from an interview she had with my law partner Mari Newman (Sammie was not allowed to interview me for the project).”

I hope you enjoy the perspective of this particular 11-year old girl as much as I did, and I was especially taken by the way in which, cutting through the usual nonsense about the nameless, faceless “terrorists” in Guantánamo, Sammie provided five thumbnail portraits of her father’s clients, as provided by Mari Newman, which do more to bring these particular men to life as individual human beings than anything the US media has managed to accomplish in nine years.

Guantánamo Bay: want to hear an 11 year old girl’s opinion?
By Sammie Killmer

Cuba/Washington DC: What is Guantánamo Bay (also known as Gitmo)? Though at the most Guantánamo Bay had over 775 prisoners, many have been released, but 173 prisoners still remain. This camp was open by the Bush administration since 2002 and President Obama said it would be closed in early 2009 but it still holds 173 prisoners and isn’t closed. It is very disappointing that President Obama said he would have it closed last year and he did not keep his promise. To me it seems that Guantánamo will never close. Many of the prisoners held were and are not terrorists. In fact, many of the prisoners still being held are innocent.

Another problem I have with Gitmo is that some prisoners are on hunger strike and that the guards have the nerve to force feed them. What they do to force food down another person’s throat is just sad. It’s awful.

There are three major camps and seven sub camps. Camp Delta is the biggest camp with seven sub camps. There is also Camp Iguana which use to hold prisoners 18 and younger, but now it holds some detainees set for release back to their home countries. On some websites it claims prisoners at Camp Iguana are allowed TV and to shower twice day, but on the Internet a lot of the articles and information is only the government’s side of the story and not the whole truth.

The number of prisoners left is very, very disappointing: 173 men left at the camp. Also their nationalities are all middle eastern. Over the years the camp has held detainees from Australia, England and other countries, but they have almost all been released. Now the main population is middle eastern men. Some have even been cleared for release.  When you think about someone being cleared to leave camp you think of their last day, but some men have been waiting months and even years because they are set for clearance but the guards and government do not release them back to their home countries.

I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with a Guantánamo Bay Lawyer Mari Newman who has been recognized by the ACLU Civil Rights award for working on this case.

Here is a summary of my interview with her (I did ask for non-classified information):

“How many clients do your firm Killmer, Lane and Newman have?”


“How long do you usually meet with them?”

“If their case is going on, all day, but if not half day”

“Are the guards harsh on what they are the permitted to say?”

“The guards are not in the room but there is a camera in the hut and the detainees are chained to the floor”

“Was it hard to get security clearance to go to Guantánamo?”

“Yes it took a long time”

“What briefly was the process to getting cleared?”

“You fill out a very long form with everything about you: where you have lived in the past, past jobs, places you have traveled, everything. A lot of people you know are interviewed”

“How many people are cleared at Killmer, Lane and Newman?”

“There are five of us, Darold, David, Sara, Siddhartha and myself”

“Do you think that all 173 prisoners will be released and Gitmo closed by the end of Obama’s term?”

“No I don’t”

“How would you explain each client?”

“Ok well —

Musa’ab — he was very funny before he was imprisioned in Gitmo. He is still very funny. He has been there since the end of October 2002. He also enjoys soccer.

Abdul Rahman — He is a poet. He is calm. He also loves cream puffs and all types of sweets.

Suhail — He is on hunger strike. He is force-fed. He also likes to read books about all different cultures.

Sa’ad — He is very religious and studies religion. He is shy and quiet.

And Jalal — He talks very fast and likes pictures of very beautiful animals.”

“How do you think Guantánamo affects America’s reputation internationally?”

“Terrible because historically America has been a symbol of freedom and known for our three unalienable rights life, liberty and property and it gives us a terrible reputation.”

We also talked  about how only four Gitmo cases have made it to the supreme court and the supreme court ruled in favor of the detainees in all of them but in the court of appeals many detainees have been ruled against though some have won.

The Guantánamo Bay issue upsets me because it is hard to believe that the US government just thrown people in prison and do nothing with them. I am very disappointed and upset how America has treated many innocent men. I cannot believe it. It’s sad what we have done. I would like to end this with a Ben Franklin quote given to me by Mari Newman:

“Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”

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 and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

22 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dawn and Martha Allen, WIFP, INTL.Revolver. INTL.Revolver said: RT @WIFP: The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers | Andy Worthi.. […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Mary Magnuson wrote:

    OHMYGOD, that is absolutely stunning. Stunning. Thank you for posting. Sharing…

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    FogBelter Sfo wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Esther Angel wrote:

    It gives me hope that there are more of her generation who dislike the government’s action and now inaction over Gitmo and so won’t repeat any such injustice during their lives.
    Beautifully written and very touching.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote:

    Thank you very much for sharing this.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Darold Killmer wrote:

    Thanks for publishing, Andy! Sammie is kind of shocked that you did this, but I can tell she’s really proud, too.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    I give the kid an A+. A few minor footnotes are needed though. Not all their nationalities are middle eastern. I think there are at least 4 from China. I think this essay should be submitted to some contest.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Anne Elliott wrote:

    I am told, by the White house, that the President reads ten selected letters from ordinary people. He replies to them. This beautiful,and humane piece of work should be read by him. His answer would be `illuminating` I doubt that it would satisfy Sammie. Shame.!!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Lisa Barr wrote:


  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    It is encouraging that an 11 year old is capable of independent research and articulate writing. She puts to shame the entire US corporate media. The other thing she does is that she exhibits compassion usually associated with civilised human beings. Yet another quality missing in the US ruling elite – including the faux Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Commander-in-Chief for at least five illegal wars and continued tormentor of people who are mainly kidnap victims.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Dhyanne Green ‎wrote:

    ‘Out of the mouths of babes’.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:

    Willy: I have a granddaughter like that. I swear she is an old soul…. her ability to understand anything to do with this sort of thing – and to feel compassion – and articulate it (she cannot write yet) amazes me. I can’t wait until she can write – she’s only six.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone. I had the feeling this would take off!
    Darold, tell Sammie that there are many people who are really proud of her — she should read the comments!
    Mui, Darold and I both decided to leave the minor mistakes uncorrected, but I agree — a minor amount of tidying up and it should be submitted somewhere — maybe to the President of the United States, as Anne suggested!
    I also like Willy’s comment that Sammie “exhibits compassion usually associated with civilised human beings. Yet another quality missing in the US ruling elite – including the faux Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Commander-in-Chief for at least five illegal wars and continued tormentor of people who are mainly kidnap victims.” Willy’s a bit older than 11, though, from what I can gather …!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Wow. That is amazing! What an intelligent and thoughtful child. I like the descriptions she gives of the prisoners in her interview, it really brings their individual personalities to life. When you hear of the #173 – it is just a number – but when you read a description of their personal qualities it make their characters shine through. Very nice 🙂

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Zoon Imran wrote:

    thank you svm for sharing this … awesome little girl we can all learn something humane from 🙂

  16. William Gorman says...

    I have to agree with Tashi that it is so important to humanize The remaining prisoners at Gitmo. Not only should President Obama read the article personally, he should respond to Sammie (and us) concerning the final closing of Gitmo.

  17. Martin Gugino says...

    I would like to have a person in an orange jumpsuit deliver a copy of this to the 50 or so Senators in the Hart Senate Office building. I assume that that is ok with you? guginom@yahoo
    Just as a kickoff to a regular periodical newsletter on the Guantanameros to the offices in that building.

  18. Rosezanna Amatullah says...

    What a bright young mind she is, it was wonderful and aspiring reading such a piece from a young girl like her. I pray that my brothers and sisters left in Gitmo and other prisons around the world will be released soon. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    That is absolutely fine, Martin. An excellent idea.

  20. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, thanks for including Sammie’s essay. Congratulations to her for an excellent essay.

    Sammie, I am going to add some further information about force-feeding.

    Maybe you and your dad rented the recent documentary “Supersize me”? In that film the film-maker recorded what happened to him when he spent a month where the only food he ate was food bought at McDonalds, and where he always consumed a “supersized” portion. He gained about a pound per day, and the doctors who were over-seeing his weight gain, were very alarmed, and kept warning him over how concerned they were over how rapidly he was gaining weight.

    Some of the Guantanamo hunger strikers lost quite a bit of weight. Andy has looked at the weight records that were maintained by the medical technicians at Guantanamo. Captives who showed a particular level of weight loss started to have a weight recorded every day. If you follow Hollywood actors you may have noticed that Christian Bale, the most recent actor to play Batman, lost a lot of weight to play the drug addict brother in the recent film “The Fighter”. He has gained and lost a lot of weight for some other roles. There was a film he starred in about ten years ago when he made his weight drop to about 100 pounds. He was as skinny as the captives the Nazis held in their terrible death camps. Some of the Guantanamo hunger strikers got that skinny.

    As you observed in your excellent essay persistent hunger strikers are force-fed at Guantanamo. What you may not have known is that when some of the captives continued to lose weight, even though they were being force-fed, the camp authorities changed how they force-fed captives. Camp authorities thought these captives were regurgitating the nutrient fluid — that they were making themselves throw-up the food.

    Farmers, in some nations, force-feed their animal stock, prior to slaughtering them. There is a forcefeeding technique, called Gavage, that farmers in France use on geese, which fattens up their livers. It fattens up their livers to life threatening levels — irrelevant to the farmers who plan to slaughter them and harvest their livers.

    The Gavage technique involves sticking a tube down the geese’s throats, and pouring down extra food — usually a kind of porridge. Geese lack a gag reflex, so they can’t throw up the extra food. The geese gain weight, much of it fat. Their livers get clogged with fat, and swell to several times their normal size. Once slaughtered their livers are used to make a spreadable liver paste for sandwiches.

    American farmers don’t use this techique — aren’t allowed to use this technique — because it is considered too cruel to use on animals. Well, in January 2006 the camp authorities started to strap the captives down, prior to force-feeding them. They strapped down the captives’ arms and legs, and strapped their heads, so they couldn’t move an inch.

    Then they would stick a tube down the captives’ noses, into their stomachs, and they would use it to pour Ensure, a nutrient liquid, into their stomachs. But, when they had finished filling the captives’ stomachs with Ensure, they would keep the captives strapped immobile. They would keep them strapped immobile so they couldn’t go to the bathroom, so they couldn’t throw up.

    Ensure has a lot of Calories. If all a healthy man was eating was Ensure then one quart of Ensure would be enough to keep his weight stable. If the director of Supersize me had drunk Ensure instead of eating at McDonalds, then he would have needed to drink between two and two and a half quarts a day to match the one pound he gained per day.

    But the weight records show that in the month after the camp authorities introduced force-feeding using the restraint chair about a dozen of the skinniest captives gained five or six pounds per day. The captives were force-fed twice a day. To gain that much weight the medical technicians must have poured over six quarts of Ensure into their stomachs at a time. Six quarts — thats a lot. I imagine it must have been very painful. We know that because the captives weren’t allowed to use the washroom they were forced to soil themselves. This is even more humiliating for muslim people than it is for us, because their religion has cleanliness rituals.

    The doctors in the film “Supersize me” were very alarmed by changes in weight of only a pound a day. Doctors who comment on actors like Christian Bale or Renee Zellwegger warn that they think those actors are gaining or losing weight too quickly to be good for their health. Yet, through the restraint chair, these captives were gaining weight about five times as fast as these actors.

    Your dad may have told you that many of the lawyers who visited clients at Guantanamo were very worried that they weren’t getting proper medical care. Your dad may have told you that some of his colleagues, like Candace Gorman, could tell that there was something wrong with her clients’ livers. People with unhealthy livers show a symptom called jaundice. When peoples’ livers don’t work right their skin turns yellow. She was concerned her clients had been infected with hepatitis, a liver disease carried by viruses.

    I am afraid that through the use of a technique considered so cruel American farmers can’t use it on their livestock the authorities in Guantanamo forced the captives to gain weight so quickly they permanently damaged those captives’ livers.

    Sammie, let me congratulate you again for writing an excellent essay

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    And arcticredriver, let me congratulate you for writing an excellent essay as well. That’s harrowing, but very powerful, and very persuasive. Thanks for all the work you’ve done on this over the years.

  22. Too Mad to Write about Politics – Bridget Magnus Shows the World as Seen from 4'11" says...

    […] what an 11 year old girl has to say about Gitmo. Notice where she admits that some of her information may be biased? I have hope for the critical […]

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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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