Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Says, “We Are Like Lab Rats,” Says Doctor Told Him, “If You Lose Organs, It Is Your Choice”


Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photo included in 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.


Last Thursday, as I travelled across London to show solidarity with the victims of a recent injustice in the UK — the Grenfell Tower fire in June, in which 71 people died needlessly because safety standards had been so gravely eroded by those responsible for residents’ safety — the victim of another injustice, not adequately dealt with for 16 years, had an article published in the Guardian.

That victim of injustice is Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, held for almost 16 years without charge or trial. That would be unacceptable if he were a prisoner of war, as it is longer than the absurdly long Vietnam War, and it is insulting to claim that any war can last forever. However, Qassim and all the men held at Guantánamo since January 2002 have never been held as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, who can be held unmolested until the end of hostilities.

Instead, they are, essentially, the same prisoners without any rights whatsoever that the Bush administration first defined them as back in January 2002. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing or have faced trials (in the military commission trial system that, in any case, is not fit for purpose), while the rest are still largely invisible, never tried, never charged, and unable to be freed except at the whim of the president.

We all remember, I’m sure, that President Obama promised to close Guantánamo when he took office in January 2009, but left office eight years later having released just under 200 men, but having failed to close the prison. Donald Trump, of course, has made it clear that he has no desire to release anyone, and so the men still held languish with no prospect of release, because, for them to be released, the president has to want to do so. This even applies to the five men out of the 41 who were approved for release by high-level governmental review processes under Obama.

Shorn of hope, some of the remaining prisoners have embarked on hunger strikes, as the only viable way they have of demanding that they either be charged or released. Previously, when they started to seriously lose weight, they were force-fed, a barbaric process, and one opposed by medical professionals, who insist that mentally competent prisoners must be allowed to die, if they wish. However, in those scenarios the prisoners have been through a trial and conviction, whereas at Guantánamo it would, I suggest, be unacceptable to allow men to die who have never been charged or tried.

Since September, however, according to hunger striking prisoners, the behavior of the medical authorities at Guantánamo has changed, and they are no longer being force-fed. Instead, they have explained to their lawyers, their health is being neglected, with no care shown as to whether doing so will lead to serious organ damage.

Back in October, the international human right organisation Reprieve submitted an emergency motion calling for an independent medical expert to be allowed to visit Guantánamo to assess the health of their client, Ahmed Rabbani. The government dragged its heels responding, as I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera, and then denied all Rabbani’s claims.

As this case drags on, with Reprieve having again refuted the government’s claims, another client of Reprieve’s, Khalid Qassim, has written about his experiences — and that is the article published in the Guardian last Thursday, and cross-posted below.

It’s of great interest not only because it provides a window into what is still happening at Guantánamo, but also because of Qassim’s eloquence. He, like Ahmed Rabbani, is not just known because of his hunger strike, but also because he is one of the artists featured in an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork in New York that recently prompted the Pentagon to reveal the extent to which it seeks to control the prisoners’ very thoughts, when threats were made to destroy prisoners’ artwork to prevent it from ever being publicly displayed again. Qassim’s artwork — actually, completely inoffensive and unthreatening — is here, and I hope it helps to provide another insight into who he is.

What readers should also know is that the US government has no credible case against him based on his alleged conduct before he got to Guantánamo, when, at most, he was a foot soldier supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan; instead, his nearly 16 years of harsh imprisonment without due process is based almost entirely on his behavior in US custody, where he has resisted what he sees as the injustice of his imprisonment, through hunger strikes and sometime through having a bad attitude.

After nearly 16 years, however, surely this is an inadequate reason to continue holding him. As he says in his article, “It’s not even as though we’ve just been in Gitmo for a year or two years. It’s been nearly 16 years, no charges and no trial. It doesn’t make sense. Even in the times of the Inquisition, the dark ages, they had courts.”

I hope you find Khalid Qassim’s article informative, and will share it if you do.

We Guantánamo Bay detainees have the right to protest our condition
By Khalid Qassim, the Guardian, December 14, 2017

I have been on hunger strike since October. The Trump administration needs to understand that it is unethical to try to coerce me off it.

I’ve been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial since 2002. Like others here, I’m on hunger strike in protest at my detention without charge. The Trump administration is trying to force us to drop our protest.

I’m currently in solitary confinement – I’ve been stuck here since 19 October. A “single cell operation”, that’s what they call it. In fact, it’s isolation. It’s terrible.

I’ve twice fallen unconscious in here – a “code yellow”. I’ve also had one “code green”. That’s when you nearly lose consciousness, but you can still hear people.

I think maybe I will spend two months in solitary. They don’t tell you how many days you’ll be here.

I feel pain and weakness and dizziness.

The government is claiming that it keeps a close watch on the health of us hunger strikers, but this is nonsense. In the past, the authorities here would weigh the hunger strikers all the time, to ensure we didn’t die on their watch. Now, they are refusing even to do basic medical checks. They last did a blood test on me about seven months ago.

On 28 October, I woke up and I couldn’t see – everything was blurry. My left eye was hurting a lot. I freaked out. I called out, begging for help. I was terrified that my organs were failing.

Later, I passed out and they called a “code yellow”. A lot of people came: the guards, nurses, and one interpreter. When the interpreter saw the condition I was in, he seemed about to cry.

I begged them to do some blood tests. They didn’t do anything. I went to a senior medical officer, and asked again. He said no. “You’re playing a game,” he told me.

I took a deep breath, and replied: “OK. It doesn’t matter what you think of me. I’m asking you to take my blood, and to examine it. I’m not asking you to believe me. Just please, take my blood test.”

They didn’t do it.

That day, I ate to prevent any permanent damage. I ate about 200 calories.

After almost 16 years here, you think you’ve been through everything. But now it’s as though they’re sending us back to the old standard operating procedure – from the bad old days, when we first arrived here. They’ve recently told me: “If you lose some of your organs, it is your choice.” We are like lab rats. I can see and feel the results of this experiment on myself.

My lawyers at Reprieve are going through the courts in the US, trying to get us an independent medical examination. When I read the declarations in that case, made by medical experts, it was amazing. They are saying just what we are saying, and what organisations such as Physicians for Human Rights have said: that you cannot coerce someone off his hunger strike, nor deny him medical attention. That it is unethical to force-feed a hunger striker. These things can be hard to understand if you’re not in detention in places such as these.

Despite everything, the seeds of hope and faith are still there. I planted these the day I came to Gitmo, before I entered the camp and the blocks. I was ear-muffed and couldn’t see anything, then shackled and handcuffed to my belly; chained to the ground, and insulted and beaten with dogs all around. People cursing my mother and cursing me. When I came to Gitmo that day, I planted that faith and that hope. Now it’s like a rose – it still lives to this moment, and never dies.

It’s not even as though we’ve just been in Gitmo for a year or two years. It’s been nearly 16 years, no charges and no trial. It doesn’t make sense. Even in the times of the Inquisition, the dark ages, they had courts.

I always ask the people in charge of the camp: why? If something would happen like this in another country, people would rightly ask, “Why do you put them there for 16 years without a trial?” I will keep asking until they charge or release me.

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 Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), 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.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posting, with my own commentary, a recent article written by long-term Guantanamo hunger striker Khalid Qassim, about how the medical authorities at the prison have been treating hunger strikers over the last few months, since, they allege, a new policy was introduced – which has involved medical personnel “refusing even to do basic medical checks”, as Qassim describes it, and leaving the prisoners to suffer from organ failure. The hunger strikers’ lawyers have tried to get a judge to order the government to allow independent medical expert into the prison to assess the health of the hunger strikers, but have so far not met with any success. Be assured, though: this is Donald Trump’s Guantanamo, and it’s not a pretty place.

  2. Tom says...

    Not to justify it. But as this continues, keep in mind that Congressional Democrats gave Trump billions more than what he asked for in this year’s defense authorization. They stopped passing actual budgets almost ten years ago. They get a lot of their campaign money from defense industry corporations. Here, legally corporations have people’s rights. Keep them locked up and they get money for the mid term and 2020 elections. That’s all that matters.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Tom. It’s such a great shame that Congress very evidently has no interest in working on behalf of the American people, and lawmakers are, instead, in the pockets of corporations.

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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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