Gitmo Hunger Striker Files First-ever Lawsuit against President Charging Torture
March 12, 2014
Clive Stafford Smith / Al Jazeera America & Massoud Hayoun / Al Jazeera America
Emad Hassan, a detainee and hunger striker at Guantanamo, is suing President Obama to end his force-feeding. On a hunger strike since 2007, Hassan has been subjected to painful, twice-a-day force-feeding more than 5,000 times. The Yemeni national's lawsuit is the first court bid to hold the military accountable for allegations of force-feeding abuse that amount to torture.
Gitmo Hunger Striker v. Barack Obama
Clive Stafford Smith / Al Jazeera America
(March 11, 2014) -- Today one of my clients, Emad Hassan, a detainee and hunger striker at Guantanamo Bay, files a challenge in US federal court to prevent his force-feeding by military staff.
Obviously, I find this difficult: I like Emad. He is an intelligent, thoroughly decent man from Yemen who never was an extremist. Indeed, you'd have to either laugh or cry if you heard how they muddled his original detention: US interrogators asked, through and Arabic interpreter, if he was familiar with Al-Qaeda. He said he was. Indeed, he had been there once or twice. They did not understand that he was talking about the small town of al-Qaidah, just north of Aden.
It took years for the Guantanamo interrogators to understand this, but they seem finally to have accepted that he is no terrorist, and he has been cleared for release.
I tried going without food for seven days in solidarity with my clients last year, but my inconsequential gesture pales when placed beside Emad's commitment: He has been on hunger strike, force-fed, since 2007, or more than half his time in the prison.
He was 23 and a university student in Pakistan when he was seized by the Pakistanis and sold to the US military for a $5,000 bounty. Now he is 35. He had never been to Afghanistan until the US military took him there. He was then rendered around the world to Cuba.
However, I am sad to say that the US military is simply abusing Emad. In the early days of the Guantanamo hunger strikes, which began in 2002, the force-feeding regimen was less harsh, but in late 2005 Gen. Bantz J. Craddock announced that he was going to make it less "convenient" for Emad and other prisoners to protest. By this euphemism, he meant it would be gratuitously painful.
Instead of leaving the 110-centimeter tube to the prisoner's stomach in his nose for weeks on end, they began to pull it out after each feeding and force it back in the next time -- twice a day. They also began to use a much thicker tube. Emad, therefore, has been subjected to this now more than 5,000 times. No wonder that one nostril has totally seized up and the other causes him great pain.
They started using the restraint chair to strap Emad down while using pressure points on his neck to prevent him from struggling. The prisoners call it the torture chair, and an advertising flier recommends its use for "interrogating prisoners."
Dan Corcoran, CEO of a company that makes such chairs, has no time for those who have, for some decades now, called his product a medieval instrument of torture.
"You know when you take a little bird and it's lost and confused and at first its heart is beating?" he asks. "But if you fully cup that bird in your hands and immobilize it, the bird . . . calms down." So, too, he says, with human beings. The chair "makes a real nice sit for them."
Emad's experience does not quite live up to Corcoran's idealized avian world. When liquid is forced into him at excessive speed, he vomits on himself. The feeding process starts again, but the vomit remains. With the nutrient mix comes the forcible administration of medication to counteract his inevitable constipation. The most humiliating aspect of the whole process, he says, is when he defecates on himself and is forced to remain seated for an hour or more before being returned to his cell -- where he will be refused clean clothes.
There is a perfectly simple solution to Emad's peaceful protest: Send him home to his brothers and sisters and let him get on with the education he originally sought in Pakistan. Perhaps then he will one day become a doctor, as he always wished.
Meanwhile, Craddock is correct that none of this is convenient for the detainees. Nor is it civilized. It is, indeed, un-American, and the sooner that Obama or the courts put a stop to it, the better for everyone.
Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
Guantanamo Inmate Takes on
'Inhumane' Force-feeding Practices
Massoud Hayoun / Al Jazeera America
(March 11, 2014) -- A Yemeni inmate at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday launched the first court bid to make the military respond to allegations of inhumane force-feeding of the prison's hunger strikers.
"This is the first time that any court will compare what the prisoners are saying about the torturous methods with what the military is saying," said Clive Stafford Smith, director of London-based human rights group Reprieve and the legal counsel in the case.
Stafford Smith is representing Emad Abdullah Hassan in his filing against President Barack Obama. Hassan is a 34-year-old Yemeni national who, Stafford Smith said, has mounted a "continuous hunger strike" since 2007.
Stafford Smith said that in a meeting at Guantanamo Bay earlier this month, Hassan recounted how staff strapped him to what he called a "torture chair" and force-fed him through large tubes, shoved into and pulled out of his nostrils before and after each feeding.
Stafford Smith said Hassan told him that the chair was often still covered in blood and feces from previous inmates who suffered from hemorrhoids and diarrhea.
During the forced feedings, Hassan told Stafford Smith, inmates are given food supplements -- some of which have reportedly led to pancreatitis -- as well as anti-constipation medicines and over half a gallon of water. Stafford Smith said this cocktail is generally administered in 20 to 30 minutes.
"In my clinical experience, the rapid infusion of liquids and enteral feedings induces pain and considerable discomfort," retired 28-year Army medical corps officer Stephen Xenakis said in legal documents obtained by Al Jazeera.
If the inmate vomits, the whole process is repeated, according to Stafford Smith's report of Hassan's account.
Hassan reportedly told prison officials he had sinus problems in his right nostril but feeding tubes were forced in through that nostril anyway.
He also told Stafford Smith that in response to nausea due to the forced feedings, he was forced to take Reglan, a drug that, Stafford Smith said, "made him feel crazy."
While on the drug, Hassan "would sit on his bed, legs folded, thinking that he was talking to the nurse, but he actually found that he was talking to himself," Stafford Smith said in his declaration, which is being filed in District Court in Washington, D.C.
Other alleged measures to dissuade hunger strikers included barring hunger strikers from participating in communal prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Stafford Smith said in his court filing that the last time he met his client, Hassan -- who is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 119 pounds before his incarceration -- weighed 85 pounds and was in "very bad" health. At one point, during a previous hunger strike, Hassan's weight reportedly dropped to 78 pounds.
"This motion invokes this court's habeas jurisdiction to do something about the festering wound of human rights violations that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become," reads Stafford Smith's motion for a preliminary injunction.
His filing to challenge alleged force-feeding practices at Guantanamo on behalf of Hassan was launched against Obama as the chief defendant.
Obama, Stafford Smith says, is "ultimately responsible for the detention." Advocates such as Stafford Smith say Obama has made little progress on his longstanding pledge to close the military detention facility. The US secretary of defense and the commander of Guantanamo have also been mentioned in the lawsuit.
"I have written to the Obama administration. The key is whether they recognize that if they are serious about closing Guantanamo, that is all that these men are asking for," Stafford Smith said.
The White House told Al Jazeera that despite Obama's being listed as the principle defendant in the case, the Defense Department should answer questions regarding the treatment of Guantanamo detainees.
"The Department of Defense has responsibility for the health, welfare and humane treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and I would refer you to them for further questions about the specifics of their policies and procedures," said White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
A Defense Department representative said that since the lawsuit involves the president, he is unable to address the issue. "We surely don't comment on issues mentioning the president," Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told Al Jazeera.
But he did say that whatever information Stafford Smith has on practices at Guantanamo are from biased sources. "Both the detainee and Reprieve have a specific agenda. That agenda may not comport with the truth or reality," Breasseale said.
Stafford Smith says he hopes that the legal challenge will force the military to respond to allegations like Hassan's, revealing its version of practices previously kept a secret from the public.
"We have asked for a preliminary injunction, which puts time schedules in place that are quite short -- around 20 days normally," Stafford Smith said.
A Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals decision in Aamer v. Obama, handed down last month, ruled that federal judges have the jurisdiction to rule on Guantanamo force-feeding cases, which Stafford Smith has said opens the way for courts to decide on the legal action introduced Tuesday.
Hassan, originally handed over to the United States by Pakistani authorities under suspicions of conspiracy with armed groups, was cleared for release in 2009, meaning that the US military no longer found him to be a threat.
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