Celebrities Fasting With the Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoners That Donald Trump Is Allowing to Die


Some of those fasting in solidarity with the hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo, who are at risk of dying under a new policy implemented by the Trump administration on September 20, 2017. Clockwise from top left: Roger Waters, Tom Watson MP, Sara Pascoe, David Morrissey, Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.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.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

It’s two weeks since the international human rights organization Reprieve let the world know that, under Donald Trump, the military at Guantánamo has come up with a disturbing new way of dealing with hunger strikers — allowing them to die. Previously, long-term hunger strikers who lost one-fifth of their body weight but refused to stop hunger striking were force-fed — a barbaric process that experts view as tantamount to torture, and a view that I endorse. However, although experts also state that competent hunger strikers must be allowed to die if they wish, that has always struck me as an unacceptable option for prisoners who have never been convicted of a crime. The third option, which should be implemented, is for the US government to do what the hunger strikers want — which is to be charged or released.

I broke the news of this disturbing policy change on my website on October 7, and followed up with an analysis of the New York Times’ coverage four days after. Since then there have been op-eds by the two prisoners represented by Reprieve, Ahmed Rabbani (in Newsweek) and Khalid Qassim (in the Guardian), and to accompany the coverage — finally shining a light back on Guantánamo after, for the most part, silence on the topic since Donald Trump took office — Reprieve launched a petition to Donald Trump, asking for him to allow independent medical experts to assess the health of the hunger strikers, and to close Guantánamo for good, which currently has nearly 22,000 signatures, and also encouraged supporters to fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, led the way with the fasting (for five days straight), and was soon joined by others. Over a thousand days have been pledged so far, with some well-known people joining in, like music legend Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, who wrote on Facebook:

Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim.
Have been in Guantánamo for 15 years
Neither man has been charged
There is no evidence either man has committed a crime
They have been on hunger strike since 2013
The only way they have to protest their innocence
And affirm their humanity
Until three weeks ago they were strapped into restraint chairs
Twice a day and force-fed supplements through their noses
Since September 20th the supplements have been withheld
They are being left to die
Ahmed weighs 95lbs

Reprieve is trying to save their lives
Alongside my comrades at Reprieve
I am fasting for 24hrs, 15th October 2017
Tomorrow I shall eat
I am ashamed.
Restiamo Umani.

On October 17, Tom Watson MP, the deputy leader of Britain’s Labour Party, joined the fast, writing in the Guardian:

I’m following the Guantánamo diet in solidarity with two men who are being slowly starved to death by President Trump.

His administration has changed its practice towards detainees who choose to refuse food in protest at their incarceration. Previously they were force-fed, a cruel and inhuman punishment in itself. Now they are no longer fed at all. Make no mistake, these men will die at the hands of Donald Trump if nothing is done.

The human rights organisation Reprieve got in touch last week to alert me to the situation of two of their clients, Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qasim [aka Qassim]. They have been on long-term hunger strike in protest at their indefinite detention in the notorious prison camp without charge or fair trial. Neither man wants to die, but after over a decade of torture, injustice and indifference, they are desperate. The only thing they feel they can do, the only control they have, is to refuse food.

On 20 September, the authorities in Guantánamo stopped feeding Ahmed and Khalid altogether. It is no coincidence that this has happened under Trump, a man who has talked of wanting to ‘load up’ the island prison with more ‘bad dudes’. As I write this, the two men have had nothing in their stomachs for 26 days.

Worse than just starving them, the medical teams at the American military base have stopped providing them with any treatment or even monitoring their health. That is criminal neglect, pure and simple.

After 26 days … Khalid and Ahmed are almost certainly close to severe organ failure. It is a matter of time until irreversible damage is done; we may have already passed the point of no return. Make no mistake, force-feeding is cruel. But this dramatic change in practice is sadistic.

Tom Watson also wrote:

So what can I and other MPs do about this?

First, we can’t let these two men die in silence. They are among the most powerless in the world and have faced grave injustice at the hands of our close ally. We need to take on their plight as our own and raise the alarm, on social media and in the House of Commons.

We should be asking questions of ministers. Why have they not spoken publicly about this? Have they raised it at the highest levels with their counterparts in the US? What responses have they got?

And we should be demanding that the prime minister show some leadership. Earlier this month, Theresa May said she wanted Britain to provide a ‘moral lead in the world’. This is her chance. She has closely allied herself with President Trump, holding his hand in Washington and inviting him here. She must now tell him to save the lives of Ahmed and Khalid, and she should go one step further.

She should tell President Trump to close down Guantánamo Bay and give the men locked up there what they have been asking for: a fair trial or a release. When America abandons our shared values, we must play the role of the critical friend.

On October 19, Clive Stafford Smith appeared on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, revealing how other supporters fasting in solidarity with the prisoners include the actor and director Mark Rylance (who recorded a short video here), the actor David Morrissey, the comedian Sara Pascoe, and French-born actress Caroline Lagerfelt.

The Democracy Now! feature is below, via YouTube:

That same day the Pakistani politician — and former cricketing legend — Imran Khan had an op-ed published in the Washington Post, looking at Ahmed Rabbani’s case, and entitled, “A Pakistani man is starving to death in Guantánamo. We have a duty to stop it.”

And on October 20, the British writer and actor Stephen Fry joined the fast, posting on Twitter the following message: “Obviously a day without food is nothing for a well-fed, well-upholstered man like me, but doing nothing seems like a feeble option in the face of such brutal, cruel and barbaric injustice.”

I hope you agree, and will be able to help, whether by signing the petition, joining the rolling fast, or contacting your elected representatives if you’re in the US — find your Senators here, and your Representatives here. The sad truth is that, commendable though their involvement is, all of them, with the exception of Tom Watson, have been on fasts before, for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015, or have actively called for the closure of Guantánamo, as have dozens of Watson’s colleagues in the British Parliament, whereas, unfortunately, few American celebrities have ever stood up for the rights of the Guantánamo prisoners, or called for the prison’s closure, and it is, frankly, almost inconceivable that a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives would fast in solidarity with the prisoners or even publicly take a stand with campaigners calling for the prison’s closure.

If you want to get involved, you can also send us a photo with our poster urging Donald Trump to close Guantánamo, an initiative that we’ve been running all year, in an effort to chip away at the indifference towards Guantánamo that was malignantly blossoming until this latest outrage broke out of its confines.

It’s time to make Donald Trump pay attention — and to get Guantánamo closed once and for all. Are you with us?

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the new initiative launched by the human rights organization Reprieve, encouraging people to fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers at #Guantanamo whose lives are being endangered by a new policy introduced by the Trump administration – allowing them to starve, either to death, or, perhaps, to be force-fed when they are on the point of death, having suffered serious organ damage. Over a thousand people have signed up for the fast, including the celebrities shown here – Roger Waters, Stephen Fry, Sara Pascoe, Mark Rylance and David Morrissey, and Tom Watson MP, the deputy leader of the Labour Party. And where, I have to ask, are the high-profile American actors, musicians and comedians, and members of the US Congress in all this? Cross-posted from http://www.closeguantanamo.org.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    1,056 fasting days pledged so far by supporters. Please feel free to join them! https://act.reprieve.org.uk/page/s/fastforjustice

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And if you haven’t yet signed it, please do sign the petition to Donald Trump calling for independent medical advisers to be allowed to visit and assess the hunger strikers, and for the prison to be closed, which currently has over 22,000 signatures: https://act.reprieve.org.uk/page/s/close-guantanamo

  4. Lucas says...

    I don’t know much about force feeding but I don’t blame the previous administration for trying to prevent the detainees from starving to death unlike the IRA hunger strikers. I tried fasting once but got sick after half a day. I’m amazed how hunger strikers last months without food.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Lucas. Yes, it’s definitely understandable how the authorities at Guantanamo would report to force-feeding, even though medical experts condemn it as a form of torture, but the sad thing is how the men’s aims are persistently ignored – they want either to be charged or freed, and not held indefinitely without charge or trial, and it’s that novelty of the post-9/11 world that needs doing away with.

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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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