Sickened by Guantanamo
A long time from now, after George Bush has left office, after the massed ranks of American forces have withdrawn from Iraq, way into the future, perhaps at a time when the US is not the most indebted nation on the planet, an enduring image of American power will remain in the minds of people all over the world. And that image will be an orange jumpsuit. No single image can conjure up America's abuse of human rights in quite the same way as a simple orange jumpsuit. The latest twists in the tale of Guantanamo Bay testify to this fact and once again throw Britain's "special relationship" with the US into doubt. For the American military has developed a new form of torture in Guantanamo Bay, and Jack Straw, Kim Howells and the rest of the Foreign Office have done little to stop it. By the way, if you are eating while reading this, now would be a good time to put your food to one side.
In June this year, an estimated 210 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay went on hunger strike, demanding to be either charged with a criminal offence or released, and that while in Guantanamo Bay they be treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions. The authorities, according to Binyam Mohammed (a UK resident held in Guantanamo Bay) and other prisoners, "promised that if we gave them ten days, they would bring the prison into compliance with the Geneva conventions. They said this had been approved by Donald Rumsfeld himself." The hunger strike ended on or around 28 July.
Within weeks, however, in early August, a second hunger strike had started as a result of broken promises by the US authorities. Faced with a second strike, the military authorities decided to take drastic action and force-feed prisoners. Julia Tarver, whose law firm represents prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, stated that at least two of their clients were being force-fed from tubes inserted through their noses into their stomachs. Without anaesthetic or sedative, Yousef al-Shehri was restrained by two soldiers, Tarver's testimony continued, "one holding his chin while the other held him back by his hair, and a medical staff member forcibly inserted the tube in his nose and down his throat". The result of the force-feeding was that he and others were vomiting up "substantial amounts of blood". At this point, dear reader, if you have not put down any food you might be consuming, now is the time to do so.
After two weeks of this treatment, Yousef and other prisoners were transferred from the hospital back to Camp Delta and placed in solitary cells. Here they were given no food or water for five days before the authorities resumed the force-feeding. This time the tubes were larger. According to Tarver's statements: "These tubes - the thickness of a finger, he estimated - were viewed by the detainees as objects of torture." After they were removed he fainted: "Yousef described the pain as unbearable."
The riot guards (Emergency Reaction Force - ERF) removed these "Nasal Gastric (NG) tubes by placing a foot on one end of the tube and yanking the detainee's head back by his hair, causing the tube to be painfully ejected from the detainee's nose. Then, in front of the Guantanamo physicians... the guards took NG tubes from one detainee, and with no sanitisation whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee. When these tubes were reinserted the detainees could see the blood and stomach bile from the other detainees remaining on the tubes." The head of the detainee hospital watched and made no attempt to intervene.
Another prisoner, Abdul-Rahman Shalabi, described similar incidents. "One Navy doctor came," Tarver's testimony states, "and put the tube in his nose and down his throat and then just kept moving the tube up and down, until finally Abdul-Rahman started violently throwing up blood."
The British doctor and campaigner David Nicholl demonstrated how violent this procedure could be when he had a tube inserted into himself by a fellow doctor outside the US embassy a few weeks ago. Dr Nicholl said: "It is fundamental to a doctor's responsibilities in dealing with a hunger strike that the detainee has the right, as any other patient would, to refuse treatment." The US military, he said, "defies this clear ethical obligation. The detainees are restrained with shackles on their arms, legs, waist, chest, knees and head; are not anaesthetised or sedated; and are subject to this practice as a further means of torture."
The UK charity Reprieve believes that between six and nine of the British prisoners in Guantanamo are on hunger strike. Among them is Omar Deghayes, who lived in Brighton. Omar's family fled to Britain as refugees after his father, Amer, was tortured and killed by the Gaddafi regime. Because Omar is not officially a UK citizen, Straw has not even replied to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who wrote alerting him to the hunger strike and requesting action. There are currently nine men in Guantanamo who are residents or refugees in Britain. For whom Straw has done precisely jack shit. The US authorities, according to prisoners, want simply to break the hunger strike. But as one prisoner has said: "There is no law here, only injustice." The Americans should know that while this remains the case, there will be no simple PR fixes.