A Yemeni man, one of dozens of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay prison, gave a dramatic account of force feedings and the conditions in the detention center in an op-ed published on Monday in the New York Times.
Samir Najal al Hasan Moqbel, who said he has been held for 11 years and three months without charges, wrote that he has lost about 15 kilogrammes since he began to refuse food on Feb 10 and would not eat “until they restore my dignity.”
In March, he was in the prison hospital and refused to eat. He described his first force feeding:
“A team from the ERF (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.”
“As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t,” Moqbel wrote. “There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
The detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba holds 166 men, most of them captured more than a decade ago in counter-terrorism operations. The prisoners are not allowed contact with the media.
The US Navy said 43 prisoners have been on hunger strike, including 11 who were being force fed nutrients. On Saturday, guards swept through communal cells and moved prisoners into individual cells in an attempt to end the hunger strike.
Moqbel, 35, said one man weighed 40 kg and another 44.5. He said his own last weight a month ago was 60 kg.
Moqbel wrote that “no one seriously thinks I am a threat,” adding that “years ago” the US military said he was a guard for Osama bin Laden. “They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.”
He had gone to Afghanistan from Yemen on the advice of a friend in 2000 to seek work and was arrested in Pakistan where he had fled after the US invasion in 2001. He was held first in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and then was sent on to Guantanamo Bay.
Moqbel said the force feedings had continued in his cell, despite his begging for them to stop.
“When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the ERF team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.”
Asked about its decision to publish the article by Moqbel, New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy said, “The value of today’s piece by the Guantanamo detainee is obvious and it was an easy call to publish it.”
“Guantanamo is run by the United States and these hunger strikes are happening. Readers have a right to know, in fact we would argue, they need to know about them.”
Moqbel said he remains in Guantanamo because the United States will not send detainees back to Yemen.
“I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.”
He told his story to his lawyers at Reprieve, a legal charity, through an Arabic interpreter, the New York Times said.