May 15 9:11 PM

US manipulates number of Gitmo hunger strikers, says detainee

restraint chair GTMO
Restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at the hospital in Camp Delta, part of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A Yemeni Guantánamo prisoner who was cleared for release four years ago claims 17 people held at the detention facility have been waging a hunger strike and are being subjected to brutal force-feedings by medical officers.

In harrowing letters sent to his attorneys at the U.K.-based human rights charity Reprieve and obtained by Al Jazeera, Emad Hassan said the hunger strikers have been “divided into two groups.”

“First there is ‘the long term group’ which consists of [six prisoners] who have spent a long time on hunger strike,” wrote Hassan, who has been on a hunger strike since 2007 and is suing the U.S. government to end his force-feeding. “We are treated completely differently to those in the second group. The second group are the other hunger strikers who are treated awfully.”

Hassan said the nurses and corpsmen who conduct the so-called forced cell extractions and administer the feedings are using nasogastric tubes that are too big, and pushing the liquid nutritional supplement through the tube too quickly, causing the prisoners, including one who Hassan said weighs 80 pounds and has a broken arm, to vomit. 

“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,” Hassan wrote.

Hassan claims that recent news coverage of the prisoners’ plight has lead medical personnel to adopt a “new strategy” of manipulating the actual number of prisoners on hunger strike.

“If someone refuses to be force-fed and complains, the doctor stops feeding them,” he said. ‘Their weight is fine”, [the doctor] says, ‘and it won’t be necessary for them to be fed.’ Meanwhile, their actual weight is lower than the claimed weight ... 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.”

Hassan has compared military personnel at Guantánamo to Nazis and his situation to Anne Frank’s:

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

In December, Guantánamo officials issued a new standard operating procedure governing hunger strikes, which they rebranded “long-term nonreligious fasts.”

Air Force Maj. Jon Quinlan, a Guantánamo spokesman, told Al Jazeera Thursday  “medical personnel monitor all detainees’ health on a regular basis. Enteral feeding [administering nutrients directly into the G.I. tract] is a medical procedure that is only used when necessary to prevent death or serious harm to the detainee. Our bottom line is the safe and humane care and custody of the detainees under our watch.”

Quinlan added that Guantánamo’s policy, adopted last December, “not to release the number of detainees not eating on a regular basis to the public,” has not changed.

Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of Reprieve, sent Hassan’s letters to Hooria Masshour, Yemen’s Minister of Human Rights. On Wednesday, Yemeni government officials announced plans for constructing a rehabilitation facility for extremists, which could also serve to house the 56 Yemenis currently detained at Guantánamo, a majority of whom have been cleared for release back to Yemen.

Meanwhile, Hassan said he is becoming increasingly frustrated about the lack of progress in his case and the cases his fellow inmates.

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

. . . .

Any views expressed on The Scrutineer are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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