A compilation of letters from detainees in Guantanamo.
Moath al-Alwi Detained since 2002
Published: July 7, 2013
My name is Moath al-Alwi. I have been a prisoner of the United States at Guantanamo since 2002. I was never charged with any crime and I have not received a fair trial in US courts. To protest this injustice, I began a hunger strike in February. Now, twice a day, the US military straps me down to a chair and pushes a thick tube down my nose to force-feed me.
When I choose to remain in my cell in an act of peaceful protest against the force-feeding, the prison authorities send in a Forced Cell Extraction team: six guards in full riot gear. Those guards are deliberately brutal to punish me for my protest. They pile up on top of me to the point that I feel like my back is about to break. They then carry me out and strap me into the restraint chair, which we hunger strikers call the torture chair.
A new twist to this routine involves the guards restraining me to the chair with my arms cuffed behind my back. The chest strap is then tightened, trapping my arms between my torso and the chair’s backrest. This is done despite the fact that the torture chair features built-in arm restraints. It is extremely painful to remain in this position.
Even after I am tied to the chair, a guard digs his thumbs under my jaw, gripping me at the pressure points and choking me as the tube is inserted down my nose and into my stomach. They always use my right nostril now because my left one is swollen shut after countless feeding sessions. Sometimes, the nurses get it wrong, snaking the tube into my lung instead, and I begin to choke.
The US military medical staff conducting the force-feeding at Guantanamo is basically stuffing us prisoners to bring up our weight – mine had dropped from 168 pounds to 108 pounds, before they began force-feeding me. They even use constipation as a weapon, refusing to give hunger strikers laxatives despite the fact that the feeding solutions inevitably cause severe bloating.
If a prisoner vomits after this ordeal, the guards immediately return him to the restraint chair for another round of force-feeding. I’ve seen this inflicted on people up to three times in a row.
Al Jazeera talks to Reprieve about Guantanamo hunger strike
Even vital medications for prisoners have been stopped by military medical personnel as additional pressure to break the hunger strike.
Those military doctors and nurses tell us that they are simply obeying orders from the colonel in charge of detention operations, as though that officer were a doctor or as if doctors had to follow his orders rather than their medical ethics or the law.
But they must know that what they are doing is wrong, else they would not have removed the nametags with their pseudonyms or numbers. They don’t want to be identifiable in any way, for fear of being held accountable someday by their profession or the world.
I spend the rest of my time in my solitary confinement cell, on 22-hour lockdown. The authorities have deprived us of the most basic necessities. No toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets, soap or towels are allowed in our cells. If you ask to go to the shower, the guards refuse. They bang on our doors at night, depriving us of sleep.
They have also instituted a humiliating genital search policy. I asked a guard why. He answered: “So you don’t come out to your meetings and calls with your lawyers and give them information to use against us.”
But the prisoners’ weights are as low as their spirits are high. Every man I know here is determined to remain on hunger strike until the US government begins releasing prisoners.
Those of you on the outside might find that difficult to comprehend. My family certainly does. If I’m lucky, I’m allowed four calls with them each year. My mother spent most of my most recent call pleading with me to stop my hunger strike. I had only this to say in response: “Mom, I have no choice.” It is the only way I have left to cry out for life, freedom and dignity.
Published: July 4, 2013
Greetings to you and everyone at Reprieve. Today is Sunday, May 12. You have just left Guantanamo, and I’m afraid it’s made me feel rather depressed and alone again, so I decided to take up my pen as a way of sharing some time with you.
Things here are getting worse. The ‘searches’, as they like to call them, are spreading fear and shame throughout the blocks – I felt this way myself after they ‘searched’ me the last time, when I spoke to my wife on a video call. I worry daily that I will die in here and never see her again, and that she will have no support after I pass. The calls are agony for both of us, but they are all we have.
My mind keeps racing back what they insisted I go through to speak to her. (It is the same, now, for calls or visits to lawyers.) What the point of the ‘search’ was, I don’t understand. As you saw, I’ve lost a great deal of weight, and felt weak, dizzy and confused. I have virtually nothing in my cell I could hide (and what would be the point?), and I try my best to get along with everyone here. Yet not only was I shackled hands, legs, and stomach to go to the call, but eight guards with the watch commander surrounded me in a room, while two of them put their hands all over me - my thighs, my privates, everything. How one is meant to speak to one’s wife after this and pretend everything is fine, I don’t know.
As it happened, we could hardly understand one another because the line was so poor - the video crackled and she could not hear me. I could just hear her cry to the ICRC: “I want to see him – I haven’t seen him in three months and I can’t hear anything, can’t you help?” Perhaps if my voice raised it would reach her, I thought, so I started to shout greetings and calming words. Technical problems like this are not mere irritants; because Gitmo allows calls once every few months, if the call fails, it may be months more before I see my wife again.
Why are they doing this? All of us want to know. Things are like this daily. We had peace in the early years of Obama – a bitter peace without freedom, but still peace. All that is gone. The system is as it was under George Bush. Normally I try to look to the future, try to forget the dark days of Gitmo and imagine the moment I might touch earth, see trees, hold my wife. But today, after all this, I wished for a heart attack to end my pain.
Younous Chekkouri, prisoner at Guantanamo Bay
After a time they resolved whatever it was, and she saw me for the first time since I have been striking. Truth is banned, and a lie unfair. So I just sat there, feeling every one of the miles between us. She wept. Of course I then did, too, wanting desperately to go somewhere peaceful, to hide from her, because I cannot bear to see her like this. But I could never hurt her by hanging up early. We tried a few more halting exchanges, the authorities ended the call.
After this heartbreak, they make you run the gauntlet to get back to your cell. First comes the ‘search’ in the camp where the call is - another gratuitous ‘massage’ to the thighs and crotch. Then they bundle you into a van so short neither you or your guards can sit up.
Finally, in Camp 6, comes the worst. I found a band waiting for me. Their faces said everything. I was forced to put my face to a wall, with all of them behind me. I tried to reason with the watch commander, but he ordered me to shut my mouth. First one guard repeated the ‘search’, as before. Then a man put his finger in my behind. Then another guard started repeating the whole process, groping me, moving to assault me again, and I cried out: ‘This is not a search, this is humiliation!’ They laughed, saying it was ‘SOP’ (standard operating procedure).
This cannot be ‘SOP’. It is sadism and sex abuse, pure and simple. Some of the men who did this to me I liked and respected. I don’t dare look in their faces now.
The next day was a dark day. In the morning I refused to go to ‘rec’ or to shower because I feared another so-called ‘SOP’ abuse. But here is the dilemma: we have to be clean for prayer, but to ‘shower’ in the sink means exposing ourselves to the cameras. It’s also cold water, and they have been running the air conditioning very, very low since the strike started. But I decided to do it anyway. I shivered, but I prayed, and for a moment I felt some peace.
Later that morning I heard yelling, and found that guards had come to demand two detainees give up their long-sleeved thermal T-shirts. Again, the guards who come to confiscate a man’s T-shirt chant ‘SOP’, but the real reason is to make striking man suffer more than they already are. The camp administration are without mercy; they will do anything to try to break this strike.
The sex assault in the ‘search’ hasn’t just happened to me; I heard the man from Kenya, Abdulmalik, cry out as he came back to the block that the guards had searched his behind too. Why are they doing this? All of us want to know.
Things are like this daily. We had peace in the early years of Obama – a bitter peace without freedom, but still peace. All that is gone. The system is as it was under George Bush. Normally I try to look to the future, try to forget the dark days of Gitmo and imagine the moment I might touch earth, see trees, hold my wife. But today, after all this, I wished for a heart attack to end my pain.
Enough; it grows dark and I must try to rest. Thanks to all of you at Reprieve, and everyone else who is challenging this injustice and calling for freedom, fraternity in love. I hope to be able to thank you myself someday, if I survive this.
Published: May 13, 2013
I began my hunger strike on February 12, 2013. There was a time when I worried about a whole lot of medical problems that were causing me suffering: the knee that has caused me pain since I was beaten up early in my detention; my back which gets re-injured each time the FCE Team [the Forcible Cell Extraction team, formerly known as the Emergency Reaction Force] comes in and beats me up some more; the kidney trouble that is made worse by the yellow water that comes through the taps round here; the swelling in my ankles caused by wearing shackles every day.
But since I started the hunger strike, my concerns about all this have pretty much been overridden by the endless desire for food.
My treatment was bad before, but since the beginning of April I have been treated with particular venom. They started by taking my medical things. I had an extra blanket to lessen my rheumatism, but that was soon gone. My backbrace went at the same time. The pressure socks I had to keep the build-up of water down did not last long. Then they came for my toothbrush. Next, my sheet was taken, along with my shoes. My legal documents vanished soon after, leaving me only my kids’ drawings on the wall. They were the last to go.
And now I am left alone. Since 8am Monday, April 15, I have had nothing, not even my flip-flops. I am meant to sleep on concrete, and when I say alone, I mean alone in a very lonely world. The bean hole is what they call the small hatch on the door through which they normally pass my food. Recently they have started using a padlock to close it all day long. The OIC [Officer In Charge] keeps the key so no one else can open it.
One reason they do this is that, despite my being on hunger strike, they were making me take the meals through the bean hole at lunchtime, and then refusing to take the clam shell [the polystyrene platter] back until the evening meal. I couldn’t throw it out of my cell, since the bean hole is locked. So it just sat there. I used to think the food round here smells disgusting, but when you’ve not eaten for two months or more, having any food sit around in the cell is pure torture. But then that’s the point, isn’t it?
I often quote 1984 by George Orwell (it’s probably the book I’ve read more than any other but the Holy Koran): ‘Torture is for torture, the System is for the System.’
They have taken to sending the FCE team in for everything. That’s if I’m lucky. Normally, if I ask for something, I just don’t get it. That includes my medicine. Then, if I want water — and I have to ask for a bottle, as you can’t drink the stuff that comes out of the tap — they don’t bring it until the night shift.
The FCE team comes in, some 22-stone soldier puts his knees on my back while the others pin my arms and legs to the floor, and they leave me a plastic bottle. You’re allowed only one bottle at a time, as having two is somehow a threat to US national security. That means from morning until night, I have nothing to drink unless I conserve it carefully.
My lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, has talked to me about this. He told me about Hurricane Carter, the black American boxer who was wrongfully jailed for murder – Bob Dylan did a song about him. Carter realised that American prisons try to control you by taking away every choice you might have, as that’s what we humans use to build our sense of who we are, whether it’s something trivial like what we have for dinner, or something important. They try to reduce you to nothingness. It’s ironic, but that’s what the authorities do to the soldiers too, to make them into automatons: they’re just meant to follow orders.
This is what they try to do to us. For a while I was doing better, mentally, because I just refused to do what I was told. If they told me to come in from recreation [in Shaker’s block, prisoners are normally allowed two one-hour periods outside their cells each week], I told them I wanted to just sit there, on the ground, as a peaceful protest.
So they would send the FCE goons to beat me up. Sure, that hurt physically, but it meant I was not just their robot, their slave. And for a while that worked for me. I was making my own decisions.
But now there’s nothing I can refuse to do. Sometimes I have not even had my bottle of water. So I have no food, no water, no meds, no linen, no books, no rec, no shower … nothing. I have been deprived of everything but my life. So that’s the only decision I have left: to live or to die.
I do sometimes worry that I am going to die in here. I hope I don’t, but if the worst comes to the worst, I want my kids to know that I stood up for a principle. The guards stare at me 24/7. I hear they’ve been saying that we started the problems here. That’s a sorry joke. There’s nothing I could ever do to them, even if I wanted to. They have all the guns, and they have ten soldiers for each prisoner.
They waste more than $1 million a year for each man they house here, 40 times what it would cost in a maximum security prison in the US. And for what? We get nothing. They just get a headache.
[Later the same day]
I just got FCE’d for no reason. Just as when they did it after the last time I took my lawyer’s phone call, I had asked for nothing, I had done nothing, they just came along: tramp, Tramp, TRAMP … busted in, and beat me up. They just wanted to hurt me.
I try to avoid them all the time now, but they try to provoke me, and when that doesn’t work, they just beat me up. I am trying to keep calm and not react, but it’s hard. They told me that if I wanted water, they would FCE me; then they FCE’d me and did not give me water. They are going crazy in this place. They are driving all of us crazy too.
I wrote their numbers down as best I could. I am known only as 239 here, and like me, they have no names. They are meant to have numbers so we can report them, but normally now they cover these up. But this time I saw two. One, a young man, was A2 06186. Another was E6 08950. Report them if you can. I am sitting here in my cell, waiting for them to come to FCE me again. It’s the only thing I have ahead of me.
Hopefully they won’t hurt my back and shoulder too much next time. It’s so painful I can hardly move them. I sometimes wonder whether this is because I may be leaving soon and they are taking revenge on me. After all, that is what they did to Ahmed Errachidi, who they called The General, for the month before he left in 2007. They treated him so badly.
You may not believe me, but even now I try to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. For some reason, I am optimistic. After all, I’ve been cleared for six years now, so how can they keep me here?
PS: At the same time as I wrote this, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, but I very much doubt that the US will allow such a letter through. So the best way I can get my message out (and perhaps even to him) is by writing this.
June 10, 2013
Here I am in Guantánamo Bay. I was meant to be a Muslim extremist, one of the “worst of the worst”, according to the former United States defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Indeed, because I am still here and 613 detainees have left, you might think that I am the worst of the worst of the worst – although perhaps the fact that I was cleared for release six years ago would give you pause for thought.
As I sit alone in my cell, I learn about acts of terrorism that take place around the world. Because the censors here do not let us have the news any more as a punishment for being on hunger strike, I have only heard the bare bones of what happened in Woolwich but, even without knowing all the facts, it is easy for me to condemn it. Just yesterday I was talking to another detainee about the murder of Lee Rigby. Neither of us could understand how anyone could think such an act was consistent with Islam. I condemn it regardless of the men’s motive. I don’t know what they thought might be achieved by it. Perhaps they were just mentally ill.
The same is true of the attack on the Boston Marathon in April. Maybe those who killed the innocent thought somehow that their attack was going to strike a blow against those who were fighting Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Americans who were killing innocent children with drones in Pakistan and Yemen. But their actions were just plain wrong. You do not kill innocent people on the streets of London or Boston and say that is a jihad for justice.
It is important to recognise that the Americans do evil things as well. They say their motivation is to fight terrorism, and fighting terror is something I wholeheartedly support. But while their intentions may be good, their actions are also very wrong – when they kill a small child with a drone missile in Pakistan, or when they lock people up without trial in Guantánamo Bay. These actions are very unwise, too. They anger people who might before have been reasonable, so that more of them turn to extremism. They feed terrorism, just as once the denial of legal rights to those suspected of being Irish terrorists drew disaffected people to the IRA banner.
I was very pleased to hear this week that the prime minister, David Cameron, read the letter my daughter, Johina, sent him. I hope one day soon I will be back in the UK and I will be able to talk with politicians about how to reduce extremism – whether it is Muslims who misinterpret the Holy Qur’an, or members of the English Defence League who misinterpret Muslims.
We cannot establish justice by committing injustice. Evil begets evil.
But at the same time, goodwill brings goodwill. Misguided people will always commit misguided acts, but we do not need to live as if it might happen to each of us every day. Yet the US is still living the 9/11 nightmare. Guards on my block here in Guantánamo, who were just eight years old at the time of the attacks, now treat me as if I blew up the World Trade Centre. Why have we passed this nightmare to the next generation? They have been taught to hate. This is driving the world away from reconciliation. Our children are being taught to live in the past, not the future.
No matter who we are, we must bear in mind what we are fighting for. Right now, I am on a hunger strike for justice. To me, it is worth suffering for that goal, and I will continue my personal struggle one way or another till justice prevails. I am deeply grateful to those in Britain and the US who support us: I am particularly grateful to Jane Ellison, my MP. Maybe some people think that a Conservative MP would have no sympathy for someone like me, but she sees past the prejudice. And so do I. Our prophet teaches us that if we do not thank others, we do not thank our God.
When we combat terrorism, we are in a struggle to maintain our principles – ideas that terrorists and EDL members have apparently long forgotten. We must always ensure that we do not make our principles, and our respect for others, the first victims in the fight.
• This piece was dictated by Shaker Aamer to his lawyer on 10 June
By SAMIR NAJI al HASAN MOQBEL Published: April 14, 2013
ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.
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.
I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.
I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.
When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.
I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.
Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (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.
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.
I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.
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. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.
It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.
When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. 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.
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.
I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.
Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.
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.
The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.
And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.
I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.
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Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.
Published:March 27, 2013
1. I am currently being detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and have been since October 2002. My ISN number is 762. I understand English and what is written in this declaration. I have personal knowledge of the facts stated herein.
2. I have been on a hunger strike for 50 days since approximately February 6, 2013. I have not taken any food from the guards since February 6 in protest to events of that week, and what has happened at the camp since then. That week, camp authorities asked all of the detainees in our block in camp 6 to step outside of the cells while a “shake-down” of the entire block was conducted by U.S. soldiers. While we were all outside of the cell blocks, soldiers went into our cells, and searched what little personal belongings we have. This kind of very intrusive search had not been conducted for at least 4 or 5 years, since the early years at Guantánamo under President Bush. The searches were unexpected, sudden, and disrespectful. To my knowledge there was no incident which provoked the searches.
3. During the invasive searches, the soldiers confiscated detainees’ personal items including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail and legal documents [and] special books and things allowed under the law of the camp.
4. I personally had the following items taken from me: blanket, sheet, towel, photos, medically necessary items, some of my legal documents, mail from my attorneys and family photos, documents from my family. This has been especially distressing for me because I have done nothing to provoke the authorities to take my belongings and comfort items that gave me a small sense of humanity.
5. Most disturbing, was the way in which the soldiers disrespected our Qur’ans. While the soldiers conducted their searches, I and other detainees saw U.S. soldiers rifling through the pages of many Qur’ans and handling them roughly. This constitutes desecration. It has not been searched in five years.
6. I had not participated in hunger strikes, or organized protests in the past. I have been patiently challenging my imprisonment in U.S. civil courts. But the latest actions in the camps have dehumanized me, so I have been moved to take action. Eleven years of my life have been taken from me, and now by the latest actions of the authorities, they have also taken my dignity and disrespected my religion. Our Qur’an is not a security issue and the soldiers have never found anything in Qur’ans since the beginning of GTMO.
7. The February shake-down which caused our strike, was the beginning of many other changes at the camp. The guards then also started being very disrespectful during our prayer time by knocking on our doors while we prayed, laughing or talking loudly, and opening and closing doors. We had not had a problem with having our prayer time disrespected or interrupted in many years and it has become a problem after our hunger strike. They also restricted our exercise and started to relocate prisoners to different camps.
8. All of these actions showed me and the other prisoners, that camp authorities were treating us the way we were treated in the years under President Bush. In protest to the dehumanizing searches, confiscation of our personal items and the desecration of the holy Qur’an, I and the men at Camp 6 and some at Camp 5, waged a hunger strike on February 6, 2013. But our strike continues because conditions have gotten worse, not better, and there is no hope that we will ever leave here.
9. As our conditions and treatment got worse, many more prisoners joined the strike. Now, almost all of the prisoners in the camp are hunger striking except for the more older prisoners in Camp 5 and 6. There are so many men here who were declared innocent by the U.S. as long as 5 years ago, but they are also now living under these more harsh conditions just because the U.S. does not know where to send them. This is not right because the U.S. has said they have done nothing wrong, but they are still treated like prisoners.
10. The strike has led authorities to treat all of us more harshly even as our health is deteriorating. For the last 30 days, the authorities have sometimes lowered the temperature in Camp 6 so that it is freezing. Also, last week, for 1 day, the authorities shut off water to the camps between the hours of 11am to 8pm. Before the hunger strike, we were alloted 7 hours daily at the “Super Rec” facility. This is the large recreation facility where we could play soccer for example. After the hunger strike began, the authorities do not permit Camp 6 prisoners any time at the Super Rec.
11. I have seen men who are on the verge of death being taken away to be force-fed. I have also seen some men coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued, and being moved to Camp 5 for observation.
12. Personally, I have lost a lot of weight. I am down from 167 pounds to 125 pounds. I am weak, and I have pain in waist, dizziness, I cannot sleep well, I feel hopeless, I can’t exercise, my muscles become weaker. In last 50 days I have thrown up 5 times.
13. Despite the difficulties in continuing the strike, and the health effects I am experiencing and witnessing, we plan to remain on strike until we are treated with dignity, the guards stop trying to enforce old rules, our prayer and religion is respected, and our Qur’ans are handled with the care and sanctity required. I am losing all hope because I have been imprisoned at Guantánamo for almost eleven years now and still do not know my fate.
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.
Signed this 27th day of March 2013, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.