Guantánamo inmate takes on ‘inhumane’ force-feeding practices

Yemeni national’s lawsuit is first court bid to force military to answer Guantánamo force-feeding abuse allegations

Emad Abdullah Hassan
Photo courtesy of Reprieve

A Yemeni inmate at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay on Tuesday launched the first court bid to make the military respond to allegations of inhumane force-feeding of the prison’s hunger strikers.

“This is the first time that any court will compare what the prisoners are saying about the torturous methods with what the military is saying,” said Clive Stafford Smith, director of London-based human rights group Reprieve and the legal counsel in the case.

Stafford Smith is representing Emad Abdullah Hassan in his filing against President Barack Obama. Hassan is a 34-year-old Yemeni national who, Stafford Smith said, has mounted a “continuous hunger strike” since 2007.

Stafford Smith said that in a meeting at Guantánamo Bay earlier this month, Hassan recounted how staff strapped him to what he called a “torture chair” and force-fed him through large tubes, shoved into and pulled out of his nostrils before and after each feeding.

Stafford Smith said Hassan told him that the chair was often still covered in blood and feces from previous inmates who suffered from hemorrhoids and diarrhea.

During the forced feedings, Hassan told Stafford Smith, inmates are given food supplements — some of which have reportedly led to pancreatitis — as well as anti-constipation medicines and over half a gallon of water. Stafford Smith said this cocktail is generally administered in 20 to 30 minutes.

“In my clinical experience, the rapid infusion of liquids and enteral feedings induces pain and considerable discomfort,” retired 28-year Army medical corps officer Stephen Xenakis said in legal documents obtained by Al Jazeera.

If the inmate vomits, the whole process is repeated, according to Stafford Smith’s report of Hassan’s account.

Hassan reportedly told prison officials he had sinus problems in his right nostril but feeding tubes were forced in through that nostril anyway.

He also told Stafford Smith that in response to nausea due to the forced feedings, he was forced to take Reglan, a drug that, Stafford Smith said, “made him feel crazy.”

While on the drug, Hassan “would sit on his bed, legs folded, thinking that he was talking to the nurse, but he actually found that he was talking to himself,” Stafford Smith said in his declaration, which is being filed in District Court in Washington, D.C.

Other alleged measures to dissuade hunger strikers included barring hunger strikers from participating in communal prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Stafford Smith said in his court filing that the last time he met his client, Hassan — who is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 119 pounds before his incarceration — weighed 85 pounds and was in “very bad” health. At one point, during a previous hunger strike, Hassan’s weight reportedly dropped to 78 pounds.

“This motion invokes this court’s habeas jurisdiction to do something about the festering wound of human rights violations that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become,” reads Stafford Smith’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

His filing to challenge alleged force-feeding practices at Guantánamo on behalf of Hassan was launched against Obama as the chief defendant.

Obama, Stafford Smith says, is “ultimately responsible for the detention.” Advocates such as Stafford Smith say Obama has made little progress on his longstanding pledge to close the military detention facility. The U.S. secretary of defense and the commander of Guantánamo have also been mentioned in the lawsuit.

“I have written to the Obama administration. The key is whether they recognize that if they are serious about closing Guantánamo, that is all that these men are asking for,” Stafford Smith said.

The White House told Al Jazeera that despite Obama’s being listed as the principle defendant in the case, the Defense Department should answer questions regarding the treatment of Guantánamo detainees.  

“The Department of Defense has responsibility for the health, welfare and humane treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and I would refer you to them for further questions about the specifics of their policies and procedures,” said White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

A Defense Department representative said that since the lawsuit involves the president, he is unable to address the issue. “We surely don’t comment on issues mentioning the president,” Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told Al Jazeera.

But he did say that whatever information Stafford Smith has on practices at Guantánamo are from biased sources. “Both the detainee and Reprieve have a specific agenda. That agenda may not comport with the truth or reality,” Breasseale said.

Stafford Smith says he hopes that the legal challenge will force the military to respond to allegations like Hassan’s, revealing its version of practices previously kept a secret from the public.

“We have asked for a preliminary injunction, which puts time schedules in place that are quite short — around 20 days normally,” Stafford Smith said.

A Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals decision in Aamer v. Obama, handed down last month, ruled that federal judges have the jurisdiction to rule on Guantánamo force-feeding cases, which Stafford Smith has said opens the way for courts to decide on the legal action introduced Tuesday.

Hassan, originally handed over to the United States by Pakistani authorities under suspicions of conspiracy with armed groups, was cleared for release in 2009, meaning that the U.S. military no longer found him to be a threat.

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