Hunger Strikes As Asymmetrical Warfare

We have no information about the treatment of hunger strikers in Bagram. But we do have information about the torture, abuse and violence inflicted on those who have decided to resist the terms and conditions of their imprisonment and use their right to protest peacefully.

These men are exercising their right to peacefully protest their imprisonment, and the conditions of their imprisonment. As Clive Stafford Smith of the legal charity Reprieve, explained:

Hunger strikes are a universally regarded form of peaceful protest. Yet the Guantánamo authorities do not share this view – they have compared their response to strikers to adapting to new warfare tactics. Strikers are punished for their disobedience, violently removed from their cells, strapped to a chair and have tubes shoved up their noses through which a nutritional supplement is pumped.

These and other testimonies were also used in the animated feature film Guantanamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes. Narrated by actors David Morrissey and Peter Capaldi the feature depicts life and conditions inside Guantánamo Bay and how forced feeding  the prisoners to break the hunger strikes is actually done

The latest evidence of the brutality inflicted on the prisoners engaging in this peaceful protest comes from Emad Hassan Abdullah, a 34 year old Yemeni who has been held at Guantanamo for 10 years. Emad has spent most of these years on hunger strike. Incredibly, the US government cleared Emad for release several years ago but he is still detained and subject to continued abuse. In a letter published in the Middle East Monitor on 10th January 2014, Emad described his treatment – including the forced feeding and the details of the methods used, as ‘horrific, barbarous torture’. He condemned the medical practitioners – doctors, nurses and assistants, who in violation of their oath, eagerly participate in this practice, asking the questions:

Yet who is better than a doctor to cause excruciating pain without damaging the body? There is a wide divergence here between the morality of a doctor’s role and the reality of his actions. It is very, very sad. When a surgeon no longer uses his scalpel to cure a disease, he becomes no better than a butcher.”

In fact, this is not the first time that a Guantanamo prisoner has written to detail his torture, and to appeal for help. A series of letters have revealed the conditions and reasons for the strikes, and the brutal reactions of the authorities. As The Guardian reported:

One detainee, 42-year-old Syrian national Abu Wa’el Dhiab, reported that the Extreme Reaction Force team, the camp’s military riot squad, would “storm” Aamer’s cell five times a day in an attempt to crush his resolve during the strike.

In letters recounting Aamer’s treatment, which have only just been declassified, Wa’el said: “They have deprived him of food, water and medicine. Then the riot squad uses the excuse of giving him water and food and medicine to storm his cell again.”

Wa’el, who like Aamer has spent 11 years inside the camp, added: “They took him to the clinic, tore his clothes off and left him with only his underwear for long hours, taunting him.”

A Washington D.C. court of appeal recently ruled that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, as the New York Times described it, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” further explaining that the judges ruled that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit,” and adding that the ruling “was a defeat for the Obama administration and may open the door to new lawsuits by the remaining 155 Guantánamo inmates.”

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