In a dramatic first-person account, a detainee has described being force-fed at the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
One of dozens of men on a hunger strike, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel says he has lost more than 30 pounds in the past two months. A fellow inmate weighs just 77 pounds, he says.
“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way,” Mr. Moqbel, a 35-year-old Yemeni citizen who is accused of being a guard for Osama bin Laden, writes in the New York Times.
Mr. Moqbel’s tale, which was related to his lawyers by telephone, comes as the prolonged hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay facility is grabbing headlines.
“It certainly refocuses some public attention on Guantanamo,” said Matthew Waxman, a law professor at Columbia University who is a former Pentagon adviser on detainee issues. “That said, hunger strikes, even very significant hunger strikes, have occurred there before and I doubt that this will have any significant impact on U.S. policy.”
On Saturday, guards and prisoners clashed as the military moved hunger strikers from a communal section of the facility into single cells after they covered up security cameras and blocked windows. The U.S. military, which runs the prison at a base in Cuba, says guards fired four non-lethal rounds after prisoners fought them with makeshift weapons, including broomsticks.
Detainees began the hunger strike on Feb. 6 in protest of their open-ended confinement and what the men consider intrusive searches of their Korans for contraband, according to prisoners’ lawyers. The military says the protest involves 43 prisoners, while lawyers say almost all of the 166 detainees are refusing food.
“People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood,” Mr. Moqbel writes in his op-ed, under the headline “Gitmo is Killing Me.”
“And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.”
The military force-feeds a liquid nutrient mixture to prisoners who refuse to eat to prevent them from starving to death.
“Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping,” Mr. Moqbel writes. “There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.”
President Barack Obama vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay facility after he took office in 2009, seeking instead to charge al-Qaeda suspects in U.S. federal courts. However, Republicans have fought to keep the centre open, fearing that outcomes in a civilian trials would be too unpredictable.
“I don’t think Guantanamo will be closed in the foreseeable future,” Prof. Waxman said. “The big question in trying to close down Guantanamo is what’s a viable alternative and to date the President and Congress have seemed nowhere near agreement on that.”
Hunger strikes have occurred at Guantanamo since shortly after it opened in January, 2002. The largest one began in the summer of 2005 and reached a peak of around 131 prisoners, when the facility held about 500 detainees.
With a report from The Associated Press