Guantánamo inmate: ‘We will remain on hunger strike’

Commentary: One of the prison’s few remaining hunger strikers speaks out on his force-feeding plight

Moath al-Alwi, a hunger striker at Guantanamo Bay. A feeding chair at the prison.
right: Chantal Valery/Getty Images

Editor's Note: The following is by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni national who has been in U.S. custody since 2002. He was one of the very first prisoners moved to Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where the U.S. military assigned him Internment Serial Number (ISN 028). The article was translated from the Arabic by his attorney, Ramzi Kassem.

I write this after my return from the morning’s force-feeding session here at Guantánamo Bay. I write in between bouts of violent vomiting and the sharp pains in my stomach and intestines caused by the force-feeding.

The U.S. government now claims that, among the 164 prisoners at Guantánamo, there are fewer than two dozen hunger strikers, down from well over 100 back in August. I am one of those remaining hunger strikers. I have been on hunger strike for almost nine months, since February.

The guards dragged me out of my cell at around 8:20 a.m. As they took me, shackled, past the other cells and toward the restraint chairs — my brothers and I call them torture chairs — I could barely breathe because of the smell. Some of my brothers are now tainting the walls of their cells and blocking the air-conditioning vents with their own feces in protest.

The force-feeding remains as painful and horrific as the last time I described it. The U.S. military prison staff’s intent is to break our peaceful hunger strike. The result can be read all over my body. It is visible on my bloodied nose and in my nostrils, swollen shut from the thick tubes the nurses force into them. It is there on my jaundiced skin, because I am denied sunlight and sleep. It is there, too, in my bloated knees and feet and my ailing back, wrecked from prolonged periods spent in the torture chair and from the riot squad’s beatings. You can even hear it in my voice: I can barely speak because they choke me every time they strap me into the chair.

No form of pressure is too cruel or petty for our captors. They have deprived me of medication for as long as I remain on hunger strike. They have also taken away electric razors necessary for proper grooming and require all hunger strikers to share a single razor, despite the serious health risks that this poses. A rash spread among some of my fellow prisoners because of this measure by prison authorities.

A drawing by al-Alwi of a restraint chair used for force-feeding at Guantanamo.
Moath al-Alwi

Not even our rare calls with our families are held sacred. Three weeks ago, as the guards took me to a telephone call with my family, they subjected me to a humiliating and unnecessary search of my private areas. I resisted peacefully, as best I could, and tried to reason with the guards. To avoid these humiliating searches, some of my fellow hunger strikers have abstained from calls with their loved ones or meetings with their attorneys.

Many brothers have ended their hunger strikes because of these brutal force-feeding practices and the cruel punishment inflicted by the prison guards and military medical staff.

Others have chosen to suspend their hunger strikes to give President Barack Obama time to make good on his renewed promise to release Guantánamo prisoners.

But as for my brothers and me, we will remain on hunger strike. We pray that the next thing we taste is freedom. It may be hard to believe, but one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility. These men survive only by the grace of God. May God continue to sustain us all until we achieve our goal of justice.

Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera America.

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