Gitmo detainee on hunger strike pens Times op-ed

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  • Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel
    Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainee
  • Barack Obama
    Barack Obama
    44th president of the United States

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner currently on a hunger strike has contributed an op-ed to The New York Times.

In it, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a 35-year-old from Yemen who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002, vowed to continue his hunger strike until President Barack Obama addresses what al Hasan Moqbel described as a deteriorating situation at the controversial facility.

"I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity," he said through an Arabic interpreter to his lawyers in what the Times said was "an unclassified phone call," and which was transcribed and published by the newspaper on Monday.

According to a military spokesman, 43 of the 166 detainees appear to be participating in the hunger strike. Al Hasan Moqbel said that guards have been force-feeding them:

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily.

A month into his hunger strike, he said, "a team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear" burst into his room, tied him down and "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.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. 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.

Al Hasan Moqbel says he was sent to Guantanamo under suspicion of being a “guard” for Osama bin Laden. "This was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch," he said. "[Military officials] don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either."

The op-ed comes on the heels of reported clashes between guards and inmates at Guantanamo on Saturday after military officials decided to end communal housing in one of the prison's camps and move prisoners to individual cells in order to conduct medical assessments.

"Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired," the commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo said in a statement. "There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees."

He added, "The mission of Joint Task Force Guantanamo is to provide for the safe, legal, and humane care and custody of detainees. All detainees will continue to be treated in a safe, humane manner."

Many Times commenters, though, expressed outrage over al Hasan Moqbel's treatment.

"How can a country that champions 'freedom, liberty, inalienable rights,' perpetrate such cruel and unjustifiable treatment of any human being?" Lou Seyler wrote.

Others were not so sympathetic.

"If you're on a hunger strike, your captors and place of detention (Gitmo) aren't killing you," one wrote. "You're killing yourself."

"If these animals want to starve themselves to death, let them," another wrote. "A small price to pay for the blood on their hands."

After his election in 2008, President Barack Obama vowed to close Guantanamo and, in 2009, signed an executive order that required the prison to be closed within a year.

In 2011, the president issued another executive order on Guantanamo announcing "several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees."

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