“Indefinite Detention is the Worst Form of Torture”: A Guantánamo Prisoner Speaks


On March 28, 2013, lawyers for Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, and a victim of torture at a “black site” in Afghanistan in 2002, prior to his arrival at the prison, submitted an emergency motion to US District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, in which they reported what al-Madhwani, held for the last ten and a half years, had told them in a phone call on March 25.

At the time, the emergency motion attracted some media attention because of al-Madhwani’s claims that prisoners were being denied access to drinking water and subjected to freezing cold temperatures in an attempt to break the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo. The hunger strike, which I have been covering assiduously, began two months ago, but the US authorities only reluctantly began to acknowledge its existence around three weeks ago, and although their response to al-Madhwani’s claims was an attempt to brush them aside, there are no valid reasons for trusting the authorities instead of al-Madhwani.

Col. John Bogdan, who responded to al-Madhwani’s complaints, oversees the prisoners at Guantánamo, and has explicitly been blamed by them for the deteriorating conditions of their detention, whereas al-Madhwani was described by Judge Hogan as a “model prisoner” over three years ago, when he denied his habeas corpus petition. Because of his perception that government allegations about a tenuous connection between al-Madhwani and al-Qaeda were correct (even though al-Madhwani continues to insist that no such connection existed), Judge Hogan said, as the Washington Post described it, that the government had met its burden in proving the accusations,” although “he did not think Madhwani was dangerous.”

As I explained at the time:

Noting that he has been a “model prisoner” since his arrival at Guantánamo in October 2002, he explained, “There is nothing in the record now that he poses any greater threat than those detainees who have already been released.”

Moreover, Judge Hogan refused to rely on any statements that al-Madhwani had made to interrogators at Guantánamo, ruling that they were “tainted by abusive interrogation techniques,” to which he was subjected in the weeks after his capture, before his arrival at Guantánamo, when he was sent to the “Dark Prison” near Kabul, a facility run by the CIA, which, in numerous accounts by released prisoners, resembled nothing less than a medieval torture dungeon, with the addition of extremely loud music and noise 24 hours a day.

I’m posting below the text of the emergency motion, as I think it is an important contribution to the accounts of the hunger strike, and it does not appear to be available online in any form that is searchable, or from which text can be copied and pasted.

I hope that Musa’ab, whose case I have followed for many years, will one day — sooner rather than later — be freed from the disgraceful conditions in which he has been held for a third of his life, and be allowed to return home to his family in Yemen. As he explains, sadly, in his statement, “Both of my parents have died during the time that I have been in prison in Guantánamo Bay. They were waiting for me to come home and now they are gone. I am afraid that my entire family will be dead before I am released from this prison.”

Statement of Musa’ab al-Madhwani in support of emergency motion for humanitarian and life-saving relief

1. My name is Musa’ab al-Madhwani.

2. I have been in prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for ten and a half years and I hereby request and authorize my lawyers to report the following circumstances to the court, and to sign this statement on my behalf.

3. Before I was sent to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was detained at the Dark Prison and at Bagram Air Base where I was tortured and deprived of food and water.

4. Both of my parents have died during the time that I have been in prison in Guantánamo Bay. They were waiting for me to come home and now they are gone. I am afraid that my entire family will be dead before I am released from this prison.

5. I, and other men here at the prison, feel utterly hopeless. We are being detained indefinitely, without any criminal charges against us, and even the 86 men who have been cleared for realise remain here in the Guantánamo Bay prison.

6. I have not been informed whether the Review Task Force has conditionally approved me for release, or whether I have been designated for indefinite detention. Either way, I have no reason to believe that I will ever leave this prison alive. It feels like death would be a better fate than living in these conditions.

7. I am dying of grief and pain on a daily basis because of this indefinite detention.

8. Our efforts for justice through the American court system have failed, and President Obama has broken his promise to close this prison and end the torture.

9. Indefinite detention is the worst form of torture. I am an innocent man. I have never done anything against the United States, and I never would. But if anyone believes that I have done anything wrong, I beg them to charge me with a crime, try me, and sentence me. If not, release me. Even a death sentence is better than this. Instead of a swift execution, we are being subjected to a cruel, slow, and cold-blooded death.

10. I am especially disappointed because of America’s claims that it protects the human rights of people around the world. America cannot break this pledge.

11. At the beginning of this year, for no apparent reason, the conditions at the Guantánamo Bay prison became much worse than they have been for years. In many ways, the conditions have become almost as harsh as during the early years when I first arrived at Guantánamo.

12. This degradation of the conditions came as a total shock to us. We were very hopeful after the election that action would be taken to end the policy of indefinite detention, that justice would finally prevail, and that conditions would improve. We have been sorely disappointed.

13. As prisoners, we are totally powerless to improve our situation. Because all dignity has been taken away from us, the only means that we have to express the utter hopelessness of our situation is by participating in a hunger strike.

14. I do not wish to die. But I have no other way to express my hopelessness.

15. I have been on a hunger strike for an extended period, to protest the disrespect shown to the Qur’an by Guantánamo guards and the return of the harsh conditions that existed in the early years of the prison.

16. I have been afraid to tell even my attorneys the details of guards’ harsh treatment of me and other prisoners for fear of punishment. I am afraid that if I tell all of the details of the guards’ conduct, I will be put in even worse conditions.

17. The degraded conditions at the prison have become so extreme that virtually all of the detainees are participating in the hunger strike as a protest to the treatment being inflicted upon us.

18. I am consuming only water, and no food.

19. I have lost approximately 30 pounds since the beginning of the hunger strike. Before the hunger strike, I was told that I weighed 163 pounds. I was most recently weighed last week and I was told that my weight was 130-135 pounds.

20. My clothes fit me much more loosely than they did before the hunger strike. I now use a rubber band to keep my pants from falling down.

21. In order to punish us for participating in the hunger strike, the guards have made conditions even more horrible.

22. For approximately 3 days, guards totally denied me and others within Echo Block access to drinkable water. It’s my understanding that another cell block was also denied access to drinkable water.

23. I spoke with my lawyers on the morning of Monday, March 25, 2013.

24. After I informed my lawyers that the guards have denied us drinkable water, some guards began to provide bottled water to me and the other detainees in my block. But whether or not we are given drinkable water depends entirely on the guard.

25. There is no reason that the guards should withhold water from us.

26. An official here at the camp told us that because of the hunger strike, we have now lost all privileges. They have told us that the drinkable bottled water is a privilege, but drinkable water is necessary to maintain life.

27. When we request drinking water, the guards tell us that we already have water, and point to the taps that are at the back of the toilets in our cells.

28. We have always been told that the tap water at the Guantánamo Bay prison is not drinkable. Not once in the past several years has anyone ever told me to drink tap water, until the past week.

29. I have never seen a guard or interrogator drink the tap water here.

30. I believe that the tap water is not drinkable and will make me sick.

31. I have observed that the lack of drinkable water has already caused some prisoners kidney, urinary, and stomach problems.

32. Because the tap water is not suitable to drink, I now drink only the bare minimum amount of water, when bottled water is denied to me.

33. After drinking water from the tap, I felt nauseated.

34. I experience constant stomach cramps and pains.

35. Because I now drink almost no water, I urinate only 2-3 times a day and it is painful when I urinate.

36. I now only defecate approximately one time per week and it is very painful. I believe that because of the hunger strike I now have the beginnings of a hemorrhoid condition. I have never suffered this condition before.

37. I have experienced headaches throughout my time in Guantánamo Bay, but the frequency and severity of my headaches has increased since the beginning of the hunger strike. I now suffer headaches almost daily. While the headaches used to improve after a few hours, they now last the entire day. I cannot take any medication for these headaches because my stomach is empty.

38. My vision has become blurry and I am having difficulty breathing.

39. I am experiencing chest pain. I am afraid that I will have a heart attack.

40. My bones ache.

41. I am constantly exhausted but afraid to sleep. I force myself to sleep.

42. When I sleep, I experience nightmares on a daily basis. I am petrified. My anxiety and fear have become increasingly debilitating since be beginning of the year when the conditions here became so bad.

43. In addition to denying us drinking water, the guards have punished us and have tried to end the hunger strike by forcing us to live in frigid temperatures.

44. For the past approximately 12 days, prison authorities have maintained the air conditioning at extremely frigid temperatures, much colder than ever before.

45. We have informed the guards that we are freezing. They admit that it is very cold, but they have done nothing to increase the temperature.

46. The air conditioning is on so high that it causes a freezing draft in the area where we are allowed to congregate and to pray.

47. Since we are only provided with thin cotton clothing, and the shirt is short sleeved, we cannot tolerate this cold temperature. The cotton clothing provided to us is insufficient to keep me warm under these super-cooled conditions.

48. I, and the the men, are constantly cold and shivering.

49. I am aware that a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross knows about the guards’ denial of drinking water to me and other men. The International Committee of the Red Cross has no power to do anything to improve conditions here, and they will not even disclose publicly what they know about the terrible conditions we suffer.

50. We have been abandoned by President Obama and by the entire world. I believe that President Obama must be unaware of the unbelievably inhumane conditions at the Guantánamo Bay prison, for otherwise he would surely do something to stop this torture.

Respectfully submitted this 28th day of March, 2013.

Musa’ab al-Madhwani

Dictated to and signed on my behalf by my attorney, Mari Newman.

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, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Anne Marie Cherigny Aboutayab wrote:

    It’s terrible where are the human rights

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Fee MercuryMoon wrote:

    For people the US don’t consider ‘Human’ there are no rights. That is the sad truth. Ask the Native Americans?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Americans have been brainwashed into thinking everyone in custody at Gitmo is a ‘terrorist’. The mainstream American press has also ignored the story, so the average American is not aware that most of these men have been cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anne Marie, Fee and Ted, for the comments, and to all those who have liked and shared this, and are helping to keep the story in the public eye. You’re absolutely right, Fee, about those the US doesn’t consider human. That was Bush’s intention when Guantanamo was established – somewhere people could be held without any rights at all. Sadly, that situation hasn’t fundamentally changed, as Obama and Congress have felt free to impose restrictions on men cleared for release, because there’s no precedent for Guantanamo. If you’re sentenced after a trial in federal court, you can’t be held after the end of that sentence, but at Guantanamo no rules exist.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re absolutely right, Ted, that Americans have been misled, and that the mainstream media has been largely useless, and that, as a result, the US public are not aware of the reality of Guantanamo. If only people were more curious. There’s a wealth of information on the internet, and a lot of people finding it and sharing it, but we’re all still overshadowed by the center-right liars and manipulators, and those who soak it all up unquestioningly. I do believe that we’re changing things little by little, as no seismic change appears to be possible, but it means that a huge amount of patience and perseverance is required.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Akeela Makshood wrote:

    I’m so frustrated. The fact that this place is still open makes me sick. Some of these men have been held illegally and stripped of their most basic human rights for more than a decade. That’s more than half my entire life. I just can’t imagine how cruel this world can be. These men deserve to return to their homes, to their families. How many more will have to die like Adnan Latif? Never to have had their screams heard.. Is death the only way out of this hell-hole?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s what we’re trying to prevent, Akeela, and you should at least feel encouraged now that the plight of the men is starting to prick consciences in America and elsewhere. It is disturbing that, until this hunger strike started to be reported, the men had been largely forgotten, and that Adnan Latif’s death did not force Obama and Congress to release other men cleared for release before they too died. Now that the men have the world’s attention, we must make sure that it remains fixed on these injustices, and that Obama and Congress cannot hide from the unjustifiable cruelty of their actions.

  8. Andy Worthington: Gitmo Guards Brutally Hurt Prisoners | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] also: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/04/08/indefinite-detention-is-the-worst-form-of-torture-a-guan… Please share with others:FacebookTwitterTumblrStumbleUponMoreEmailPrintGoogle […]

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    The only way these men will be released is when a US national news outlet takes up their cause. You should contact David Fanning at Frontline at WGBH in Boston or Bill Moyers in New York.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Andy, the way it works is that these men need to get the attention of the American people. World opinion doesn’t sway the Congress or the President. Foreigners don’t vote in US elections.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I think it’s fair to say that a combination of outside pressure and domestic pressure can create change, Ted. After all, Bush wasn’t really given a hard time by Democrats in Congress, but in his second term he began to respond to sustained criticism from a variety of places, both domestic and international. I don’t know what more we can do to interest the US media. They know who we are, but rarely want to talk to us – and those parts of the media who are, even theoretically, in a position to care, are only part of the picture. I can’t see Fox News taking an interest whatever we do.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    And by the way, you are correct, Bush had no problems with Democrats in Congress. They were all scared to death of appearing to be disloyal and unpatriotic. But they were monolithic about it, so no one accuses Democrats of being on the wrong side of the issue to this day.
    The Bush Administration started to feel pressure when video of IED bombs exploding on Iraqi highways and the siege of Fallujah started appearing on the nightly TV news.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    There was also the Abu Ghraib scandal, Ted; and Rasul v Bush, when the Supreme Court allowed lawyers in to Guantanamo: and the leaked John Yoo “torture memo”; and the high-profile dissent by Alberto Mora, general counsel of the US Navy regarding the use of torture.
    The case is pretty simple now: indefinite detention without charge or trial is un-American, especially when a sober and responsible establishment task force established by the president recommended, at least three years ago, that it was not in America’s interest to continue holding 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners.

  14. Mr. R says...

    Brutal torturers of an increasingly pervasive culture of cruelty…

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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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