Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding


Yesterday, two disturbing letters from Guantánamo were released by Reprieve US, the US branch of the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the 154 men still held at the prison, and I’m posting them below, because they shed light on what Reprieve described in a press release as the “escalating, brutal punishment of hunger strikers,” who continue to be force-fed, even though the World Medical Association denounced force-feeding in the Declaration of Malta, in 2006, calling it “unjustifiable,” “never ethically acceptable,” and “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” if inflicted on a patient — or a prisoner — who is capable of making a rational decision about his refusal to eat.

The letters were written by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, even though he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. 77 of the men still held have been cleared for release — 75 by the task force, and two in recent months by a Periodic Review Board — and 57 of these men are Yemenis, but they are still held because of US fears about the security situation in Yemen — fears which may be legitimate, but which are an unacceptable basis for continuing to hold men that high-level review boards said should no longer be held.

In February, I made available a harrowing letter written by Emad, and in March he launched a historic legal challenge, becoming “the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to have his claims of abuse at the military base considered by a US court of law,” as Reprieve described it.

Emad’s legal challenge followed an important ruling in February in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court), in which the court overturned two rulings made in the District Court last summer. In those rulings, judges had turned down challenges to the force-feeding regime, submitted by prisoners including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, because of legal precedents which purported to establish that Guantánamo prisoners were unable to challenge any aspect of their treatment.

In one letter, Emad explained how one hunger-striking Yemeni prisoner (Abu Bakr Alahdal, one of six long-term hunger strikers, including Emad) weighs just 80 pounds, and has a broken arm. Nevertheless, he was taken to be force-fed by a Forced Cell Extraction team, which Emad described as “Guantánamo’s official riot police” — a group of armoured guards who deal with even the most minor infractions of the rules with extreme violence.

In his second letter, Emad explained how Abu Bakr Alahdal was “vomiting on the torture chair,” because the personnel feeding him — a nurse and corpsman — “refused to stop the feed, or to slow the acceleration of the liquids.”

Emad also explained how “[t]he culmination of six or seven years of force-feeding is now taking its toll.” He wrote how, a few months ago, he was “given a kind of feeding formula,” which, he stated, “made me vomit from 10 pm to 7 am — pieces of fat kept coming out whenever I vomited.”

He also stated that the authorities had also “begun this cruel process” with Abu Bakr Alahdal. “[A]t 6 am,” Emad wrote, “he was holding a cup with vomit in it after six brutal hours of feeding. Every day is like that. If this isn’t torture … surely this is what normal people call it? By normal, I mean the normal people outside the prison, because there is no normality here.”

Emad also noted that the number of hunger strikers “is still hovering around 17,” although Reprieve added that the authorities “stopped releasing official figures towards the end of last year,” after the numbers of those who had been engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike had dropped from its peak in summer, when even the authorities acknowledged that over a hundred prisoners were on a hunger strike. As Reprieve also noted, the prisoners’ access to their lawyers “has been increasingly restricted — reducing the availability of accurate information on the strike.”

Responding to the letters, Emad’s brother, Mohammed Abdallah, said, “Since my brother was rounded up and taken to Guantánamo on false pretenses, despite never having done anything wrong, our family has been devastated without him. When we read his letters describing the dreadful torture and horrific treatment that Guantanamo authorities subject him to it breaks our hearts. There is no reason at all that Emad can’t come home to us in Yemen or anywhere we can see him. Please, President Obama, let him return to us.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, said, “Although the authorities are trying to cover it up, the hunger strike at Gitmo is still going on and the military’s effort to suppress it as savage as ever. We’re fighting this brutality in federal court, but there is one man who has the power to end this pain. Obama must send cleared men like Emad home to their families at once.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I urge everyone who believes that Emad — and other cleared Yemenis — should be put on a plane and sent home tomorrow, to make their voices heard next Friday, May 23, the 1st anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and also to call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 to urge President Obama to act immediately to release Emad and the other cleared Yemeni prisoners. You can also submit a comment online.

Please note that, in the letters, Emad’s references to other prisoners on hunger strike refer to the following men: firstly, those who, like him, are long-term hunger strikers — Abdul Rahman Shalabi (ISN 42), a Saudi identified by Emad as Abdul Al Rahman, or Abdu Al-Rahman Halapi, who has been on hunger strike since 2005; Abu Bakr Alahdal (ISN 171), a Yemeni; Tarek Baada (ISN 178), a Yemeni identified by Emad as Tariq, who, like Emad, has been on hunger strike since 2007 (and whose correct name is Tariq Ba Odah); Mohammed Al-Hamiri (ISN 249), a Yemeni identified by Emad as Sanand (Sanad?), who has also long been cleared for release; and Ghassan Al-Sharbi (ISN 682), a Saudi identified by Emad as Gussan, or Gassan Al-Otapee.

Other prisoners mentioned are: Sohail — almost certainly Zohair al-Shorabi (ISN 569, a Yemeni also identified as Suhail Abdo Anam Shorabi; Yasseen — almost certainly Yasin Ismail (ISN 522), another Yemeni; Muaz al-Alawi (ISN 28), another Yemeni identified by Emad as Moath al-Alwi; Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461), a Pakistani (also known as Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, or Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani); and Khalid, who is Khaled Kassim (ISN 242), another Yemeni.

For more details about most of these men, see my article from last June, “Guantánamo Stories: 19 of the 43 Men Being Force-Fed in the Prison-Wide Hunger Strike.”

Emad Hassan’s first recent letter from Guantánamo

Reprieve team,

Hi guys. Warm greetings to all of the team from my brothers here, and of course from me. Thank you guys for your bravery and patience in a strange situation and in a strange time. This is definitely not an easy place to be. Yet, you have showed the world, your people and us that there are principles and morals, and there are people who still believe in them.

I mentioned in my last letter about the new tactics the doctors are using. They have stopped force feeding some brothers because the doctors said their weights were good. Last night, the doctor asked to meet with those who had stopped being fed. Tariq Ba’awada [Baada], a long-term hunger striker, had his feeding formula changed five days ago from regular Ensure to Two-Cal plus a cup of olive oil added and told to drink it. Tariq refused and has since stopped having anything except for 100 calories per day. He told me last night this was “to help me continue my daily performance.” A nurse came to him and she told him that his formula had changed to what it had been before so he went to be fed last night. His weight when he stopped feeding was 96 lbs., last night, it was down to 92 lbs.

Another brother, his name is Sohail (a Yemeni), lost six pounds in four days. He was told that the doctor will see him today for his feeding.

Yasseen (a Yemeni) has stopped eating and drinking anything for five days. He is with me in same block, in front [of] me. I can see him but I can’t hear him. His voice is so weak, and I really understand his situation. Three times during these five days he has been asked to meet the doctor, but he refused. He ate this morning, yogurt (plain, low fat) for a total of 100 calories, and half a cup of oatmeal and a cup of coffee which helped him be able to pray, read the Quran and talk to us.

Two brothers are still fed by the FCE (Forced Cell Extraction) team. Another two, Abdu al-Rahman Halapi (a long-term striker) and Gassan Al-Otapee (also a long-term striker) have [been] taken to hospital (Abdu al-Rahman) and P.H.U. (Gassan). We don’t know their current situation here, but it won’t be good.

Our situation hasn’t moved forward, but backwards. This is against nature. Everything moves forwards, like the hands of a clock, except for Guantánamo. Our clock is broken!

The hunger strikers’ number is still hovering around 17. But as people started talking about us in the news, the medical team have adopted a new strategy. If someone refuses to be force-fed and complains, the doctor stops feeding them. “Their weight is fine”, he says, “and it won’t be necessary for them to be fed.” Meanwhile, their actual weight is lower than the claimed weight.

One Yemeni brother (Abu Bakr Ibn Ali Muhammad Alahdal) is 80 pounds and he is fed by the Forced Cell Extraction (FCE) team, Guantanamo’s official riot police. Yesterday the FCE team beat him when they came into and out of his cell. He is 80 pounds with one broken arm. He cannot walk, just crawl from his bed to the faucet or toilet once he needs to use it! How can someone with this condition fight 8 armoured guards?

Another Yemeni brother (Moath Hamza Ahmed al Alwi) is 101 pounds and is also fed by the FCE team. Ahmad Rabbani walks to the feeding, and is brought back by the FCE team. There is a scheme here to avoid blame about the force-feeding. The corpsman comes asking the hunger striker if he wants feeding. If the answer is yes, the escort will come to take him. If the answer is no, he won’t be fed until it’s a critical situation. The FCE team will take him and they will feed him forcefully.

If anyone asks the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) why he force-feeds the hunger strikers, the SMO will say: “There is no force-feeding any more. The detainees chooses to be fed.” Do you see the trick? Also, the medical personnel play with the hunger striker numbers. When the doctor stops feeding four detainees, he decreases the total number of hunger strikers to 13. When their weight goes down and the doctors have to feed him, he cancels three or four others so he can keep the number of hunger strikers low. I am hesitating between refusing the feeding until the doctors decide to force-feed me, and waiting to see what will happen in the next two-three weeks.

I will leave you with peaceful wishes and thank you again.

Emad Hassan

Emad Hassan’s second recent letter from Guantánamo

Dear Reprieve team,

A cold greeting from me from the freezing weather in Camp V! By the time this letter reaches you it should be warmer; at least I am wishing it to be!

It has ended before it begun. We were hoping that the new wave SMO and his staff would differ from the last group. Unfortunately our hopes have not been answered as yet. In the last phone call, Clive asked me to describe the procedures that apply to the hunger strikers here.

Well, we have been divided into two groups. First there is “the long term group” which consists of those who have spent a long time on hunger strike. We are six members: Abdul al Rahman (042), Gussan (682), Abu Bakr (171), Sanand (249), Tariq (178) and I. We are treated completely differently to those in the second group.

The second group are the other hunger strikers, who are treated awfully. Even within this group, there are two kinds of treatment. For those who take their feed compliantly, the procedure will be facilitated to be somewhat easier from the beginning to the end. The guards will smile as they take him to the class room (a building which was previously a small school but is now used as the feeding room). The nurse will make sure to greet him when he gets there. The nurse or corpsman will ask if he is comfortable in the feeding chair. The nurse will ask what tube size he prefers (although not all nurses do this). “Which side do you prefer, sir?”, the nurse will ask gently, and will keep asking “is it ok?” as the tube is inserted in.

However, the same nurse will act completely differently with those who are deemed “uncompliant”. No smiling, no greeting, no asking about tube size or which side the poor detainee would like … nothing. It doesn’t end there. They will use any and every thing to make it as excruciating as they can, as much as they can. The doctor, especially, will open the door to hell for those who they see as “uncompliant”.

As I write now, brother 171 is vomiting on the torture chair, having been brought there by the Forced Cell Extraction (FCE) team. The nurse and corpsman have refused to stop the feed, or to slow the acceleration of the liquids.

Brother Khalid (ISN 242) is one of the detainees who has been stopped from feeding. He told me that the reason for this was because he chose to be taken by the FCE team to feed instead of walking. And he proceeded to tell me this story: before he started with the FCE team he spoke with the nurse and asked that she refrain from adding water with the Ensure, because the mixtures made him feel sick. The nurse told the doctor about it, and she was given permission to not add water. After that day, they carried on his feedings without adding water. When Khaled began being FCE’d, the water once again found its way to his feeding bags. Khaled waited until the same nurse came and asked her about the reappearance of water with the feeding formula. She said softly, “it’s the doctors’ orders.” He said he smiled at her and asked: “is this because of the FCE team?” The nurse simply nodded.

I am sick of this hypocrisy. The odd thing is that there are members of staff here (nurses, corpsmen etc.) who are convinced, or at least appear to be convinced, that they are here protecting us (as safety officers). Who is going to protect us from these protectors?

While I was being fed, I showed the nurse the papers of Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the “War on Terror”. She was surprised: “Wow, who gave you this?” she said, as if they were papers from a prohibited book.  Once I told her they were from my lawyer, she just kept quiet. Another nurse refused to touch it, as if it could burn her. They know the truth, but refuse to question anything.

Since the beginning of the hunger strike in 2005, Abubakr (171) and I have had no problem with tolerating the feeding. Now, we are known to have small stomachs. The culmination of six or seven years of force-feeding is now taking its toll. A couple of months ago I had been given a kind of feeding formula (Pulmocare, a similar mixture to TwoCal) by mistake. Or so the nurse said — but I don’t believe it. The formula made me vomit from 10 pm to 7 am — pieces of fat kept coming out whenever I vomited. They have not repeated that mistake with me. But they have begun this cruel process with Abubakr — at 6 am he was holding a cup with vomit in it after six brutal hours of feeding. Every day is like that. If this isn’t torture … surely this is what normal people call it? By normal, I mean the normal people outside the prison, because there is no normality here.

I keep asking myself if I could honestly say what Anne Frank said all those years ago in Nazi Germany: “It’s really a wonder I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” If I could say this … do I dare to say it loudly? This is something few people can do over here.

I asked myself: if she lived through what we are currently living, she would keep her ideals … not that our life is any harder or more dangerous than what she went through. I am sure what she faced was incomparable, but the Nazis were war criminals. They killed, tortured and starved thousands of Jews; because they are criminals they didn’t have any legitimacy for their actions. They have been cursed for it — with anguish that cannot be described. What makes it worse is that the Americans have killed, tortured and starved thousands too: but with a veil of legitimacy. The fact that these actions are somehow accepted is an unforgettable and unforgivable crime.

Nonetheless, I think Anne Frank would keep her ideals in Guantánamo, in spite of the challenges. And that would be the biggest test she would face.

Emad Hassan (ISN 680 — cleared for release back home over four years ago)

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).

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2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I’m rather sad to note that Reprieve’s press release yesterday didn’t pick up any interest at all in the mainstream media, so anything you can do to share it will be much appreciated. A year ago, numerous media outlets were interested in this kind of frontline reportage from the hunger strikes, but now – what? – have they all moved on? I hope you can help us make some noise on the global day of action for Guantanamo next Friday, May 23, the first anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantanamo, which has led to just 12 prisoners being freed, even though there are 77 cleared prisoners still held – including Emad Hassan: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/05/12/close-guantanamo-take-part-in-the-global-day-of-action-on-may-23-2014/

  2. I Refuse to Participate in this Criminal Act | Witness Against Torture | Witness Against Torture says...

    […] in secrecy, is shockingly violent compared to medically warranted tube-feeding. As described in letters from detainee Emad Hassan, the hunger striker is strapped into a restraining chair, often tightly around the abdomen. A tube […]

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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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