Journalist force-fed in Gitmo hunger strike

More than a dozen detainees have launched a new hunger strike at Guantánamo, and the military has responded by starting to force-feed the detainees, according to an April 8 New York Times report. Lawyers for the hunger strikers said the strike was prompted by harsh conditions at a new maximum security complex, where some 160 prisoners had been moved since December. “The reports about the conditions at Camp 6 are deeply disturbing, and holding people indefinitely without legal process or access to family is an invitation to disaster,” Hina Shamsi, a lawyer with Human Rights First, told AP.

“We don’t have any rights here, even after your Supreme Court said we had rights,” the New York Times quotes one hunger striker, Majid al-Joudi, as telling a military physician, according to medical records released recently under a federal court order. “If the policy does not change, you will see a big increase in fasting,” al-Joudi said.

Newly released Pentagon documents show that during earlier hunger strikes, before the use of restraint chairs, some detainees suffered sharp weight losses. A handful of those prisoners lost more than 30 pounds in a matter of weeks, according to the report. (AFP, AP, April 10)

Among those being force-fed with tubes through the nostrils is Sudanese-born AlJazeera camerman Sami al-Hajj. Al-Hajj began his hunger strike on January 7 to protest against five years of detention without trial at the camp. Al-Hajj was a member of the AlJazeera news team that covered the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He was arrested by Pakistani police in December of that year in Chaman when he and a colleague tried to re-enter Afghanistan. AlJazeera had asked them to cover the inauguration of the new government. (Friends of AlJazeera, March 12)

See our last posts on Gitmo and the torture/detainment scandal.

  1. Sami al-Hajj back at AlJazeera
    From the New York Times, Dec. 23:

    From Guantánamo to Desk at Al Jazeera
    Of the 779 known detainees who have been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba—terrorism suspects, sympathizers of Al Qaeda, people deemed enemy combatants by the United States military—only one was a journalist.

    The journalist, Sami al-Hajj, was working for Al Jazeera as a cameraman when he was stopped by Pakistani forces on the border with Afghanistan in late 2001. The United States military accused Mr. Hajj of, among other things, falsifying documents and delivering money to Chechen rebels, although he was never charged with a crime during his years in custody.

    Now, more than a year after his release, Mr. Hajj, a 40-year-old native of Sudan, is back at work at the Arabic satellite news network, leading a new desk devoted to human rights and public liberties. The captive has become the correspondent.

    “I wanted to talk for seven years, to make up for the seven years of silence,” Mr. Hajj said through an interpreter during an interview at the network’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar…

    According to Zachary Katznelson, the legal director for Reprieve, a human rights group that represented Mr. Hajj, the allegations changed over the years: “First, he was alleged to have filmed an interview of Osama bin Laden. It was another cameraman. So, that allegation disappeared. Then the U.S. said Sami ran a jihadist Web site. Turns out, there was no such site. So that allegation disappeared. Then, the U.S. said Sami was in Afghanistan to arrange missile sales to Chechen rebels. There was no evidence to back that up at all. So that allegation disappeared.”

    Mr. Hajj’s release, back to Sudan on a stretcher, came in May 2008 after lobbying by human rights groups and the government of Sudan. The Pentagon spokesman said Mr. Hajj’s release to Sudan “indicated our belief that the government of Sudan could effectively mitigate the threat posed” by him.