In early February, detainees began hunger striking for justice. Dozens joined others. Numbers rose to about 130. Some were force-fed. Doing so constitutes torture.
Most detainees continued courageously for months. About two dozen refuse food now.
Brutalizing conditions took their toll. Force-fed strikers suffered most. Previous articles explained.
Detainees are restrained in chairs. They’re called “padded cells on wheels.” Masks cover their mouths.
Tubes are forced painfully through their noses and throats to their stomachs. It’s done abrasively. It draws blood.
Liquid nutrients are pumped into their stomachs. Doing so causes excruciating pain. No sedatives or anesthesia are given. Men are kept strapped under restraints up to two hours.
Reportedly they’re passed from one inmate to another. Proper sanitation is non-existent. One detainee called the procedure “torture, torture, torture.”
Those refusing force-feeding are brutally beaten. Injuries occur. Hospitalization at times follows.
The World Medical Association says force-feeding violates fundamental medical ethics.
When accompanied by “threats, coercion, force, and use of physical restraints, (it’s) considered inhuman and degrading treatment.”
On October 12, London’s Guardian headlined “The making of Guantanamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes.”
Few know what goes on inside. An “extraordinary animated film” helps explain. It’s titled Guantanamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes. Actors David Morrissey and Peter Capaldi narrate it.
Sami al-Hajj is a former detainee. He was held seven years. He’s now free. He was released uncharged.
He watched the film. It reminded him of his darkest hours. Twice a day for 16 months, he was painfully force-fed.
Watching “reminds me of the painful suffering during my hunger strike,” he said.
It was painful in every sense of the word. I felt at the time that I died twice every day during the force-feeding.
According to the Guardian, “the mystery of what goes on beyond the watchtowers and barbed-wire perimeter of the world’s best known, most controversial and most expensive prison, has if anything deepened.”
What exactly is daily life like inside Guantanamo Bay? How does it feel, smell, sound? What do its detainees do all day? What do they think? How do they cope?
When news first surfaced about last winter’s hunger strike, details were at best sketchy.
Clive Stafford Smith founded Reprieve. It’s UK-based. It provides legal aid. It does so from death row to Guantanamo.
Smith met with detainees. He interviewed them under tightly controlled conditions.
He was prohibited from taking notes. He “scribbled down” information best he could after leaving. He provided news about what went on.
Reprieve lawyer Cori Crider says “(d)etainees are effectively censored.”
Everything they say to me on the telephone is listened to – and interrupted if the authorities hear anything they don’t like.
Everything they write to me passes through a government censor. And you can’t interview – you can only ever use testimony through this filtered material.
Smith’s transcripts were “evocative,” “human,” and “powerful.” London’s Observer published them.
Guardian multimedia news editor Mustafa Mhalili said:
We had these heart-rending words describing the goings-on inside Guantanamo but no visuals. The big conundrum was: how do we do this?
His video producer colleague Guy Grandjean said “let’s do an animation.”
Independent production company Sherbet was approached. Executive director Johathan Bairstow bought the idea.
He recognized its potential. “The medium can be used in interesting ways when it is used with integrity and sensitivity,” he said.
Initial plans were to feature five detainees. Grandjean said it “became apparent that it would be hard to develop an attachment to five characters.”
It was decided to feature two. Shaker Aamer and Younous Chekkouri were chosen. Last July, a “scratch” track was finished.
Meetings between Khalili, animators and Reprieve lawyers followed. Crider’s insight was invaluable. She and Smith knew Guantanamo from frequent visits.
Animated accuracy was essential. Otherwise the production would be pointless. Weeks of work went into getting things right.
By end of August, an “animatic” was completed. Actors Capaldi and Morrissey were chosen to narrate.
“They were truly in what they were doing,” said the Guardian. They “were so up for it. It was a joy to watch.”
Music and effects were added. It was done “to reproduce the oppressive quality of a place where sounds like the nocturnal marching of sentries are used to torment detainees.”
According to Crider:
The end product is the most comprehensive effort to take the testimony and pull it together into a kind of narrative that conveys to people what Guantanamo is like inside.
I hope it will add to the whole discourse on Guantanamo and educate people who have no idea about what’s been going on there.
But it’s not just about Guantanamo. It’s about prisoners around the world who are being held without charge.
It’s about unspeakable brutality going on out of sound and mind. It’s about living hell on earth. It’s about monsters inflicting it.
It’s about ruthless governments. None match America’s viciousness. Its torture black sites operate globally.
They’re in dozens of countries. They hold thousands of prisoners. The great majority committed no crimes.
They’re guilty of being Muslims in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’ve paid dearly for doing so.
Moath al-Alwi is one of many. He’s a Yemeni national. Since 2002, he’s been in US custody.
He was one of the first detainees sent to Guantanamo. On October 15, Al Jazeera headlined “Still on hunger strike at Guantanamo.”
Al-Alwi recounted his force-feeding. He wrote after finishing a morning session.
He did so “in between bouts of violent vomiting and the sharp pains in my stomach and intestines caused by the force-feeding.”
He’s been hunger-striking for almost nine months.
“The guards dragged me out of my cell at around 8:20 a.m,” he said.
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.
Force-feeding remains “painful and horrific,” he said. Military staff want to break detainees’ will.
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.
Nothing is too extreme, “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.
To avoid them, prisoners abstain from making calls to loved ones.
“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,” said al-Alwi.
Others suspended striking in hopes Obama would “make good on his renewed promise to release” them.
His policies belie his rhetoric. His promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. He broke every major one made.
Al-Alwi intends to continue striking. He yearns for freedom. “It may be hard to believe,” he said, “that 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.
A Final Comment
Reprieve’s web site provides a Guantanamo timeline. It runs from November 2001 through May 2, 2013.
It provides a valuable snapshot of American cruelty. It continues largely out of sight and mind.
It does so in dozens of global torture prison black sites. They operate on land and sea. They reveal America’s dark side.
It reflects unconscionable brutality. It’s longstanding US practice. It’s the American way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected] His new book is titled How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening. http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/