[Ppnews] Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 10 12:17:40 EDT 2009

Guantanamo’s Hidden History
Shocking statistics of starvation
June 2009

Author: Andy Worthington
Copyright © 2009 Cageprisoners
All rights reserved.

27 Old Gloucester Street
Telephone: 00 (44) 7973264197
Email: contact at cageprisoners.com

INTRODUCTION Today is the third anniversary of 
the deaths in Guantánamo of three prisoners, Ali 
al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani. 
The anniversary comes just two weeks after the 
second anniversary of the death of Abdul Rahman 
al-Amri, the fourth prisoner to die in mysterious 
circumstances, and just eight days after the 
death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih. The 
authorities maintain that the men died by 
committing suicide, although doubts about this 
explanation have repeatedly been voiced by former 
prisoners. However, it is also significant that 
all five men were long-term hunger strikers.

Cageprisoners is marking this sad anniversary 
with a brief report about the Guantánamo hunger 
strikers, and the dreadful toll that prolonged 
starvation -- and brutal force-feeding, which is 
the response of the US military -- exacts on 
prisoners held, for the most part, without charge 
or trial in a seemingly endless legal limbo. 
Force-feeding involves prisoners being strapped 
into a restraint chair and force-fed twice daily 
against their will, through an agonizing process 
that involves having a tube inserted into the stomach through the nose.

As Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer for several 
dozen Guantánamo prisoners, explained in the Los 
Angeles Times in 2007, with reference to Sami 
al-Haj, who was released in May 2008, “Medical 
ethics tell us that you cannot force-feed a 
mentally competent hunger striker, as he has the 
right to complain about his mistreatment, even 
unto death. But the Pentagon knows that a 
prisoner starving himself to death would be 
abysmal PR, so they force-feed Sami. As if that 
were not enough, when Gen. Bantz J. Craddock 
headed up the US Southern Command, he announced 
that soldiers had started making hunger strikes 
less „convenient.. Rather than leave a feeding 
tube in place, they insert and remove it twice a day.”

Statistics can be deceiving, of course, but three 
months ago, when Ramzi Kassem, the lawyer for 
Ahmed Zuhair, one of Guantánamo's most persistent 
hunger strikers, came back from a recent visit to 
the prison, he estimated that Zuhair weighed no 
more than 100 pounds, and “also appeared to be 
ill, vomiting repeatedly during meetings” at the 
prison. “Mr. Zuhair lifted his orange shirt and 
showed me his chest,” Kassem explained. “It was 
skeletal.“ He added, “Mr. Zuhair's legs looked 
like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.”

While this is disturbingly thin, given that an 
average, healthy man weights between 150 and 200 
pounds, Cageprisoners. latest report only 
confirms that it is typical of the skeletal state 
of Guantánamo.s long-term hunger strikers.

In March 2007, the Pentagon released a series of 
documents, “Measurements of Heights and Weights 
of Individuals Detained by the Department of 
Defense at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” which recorded, 
in numbing detail, the prisoners. weights, from 
the date of their arrival and, in general, at 
monthly intervals thereafter until December 2006, 
when these particular records come to an end. 4
In the cases of prisoners on hunger strike, the 
weights were recorded at weekly intervals, and, 
in some cases, on a daily basis.

Unnoticed at the time of their release, these 
documents have not, until now, been analyzed in 
depth, but after conducting a comprehensive 
review of the documents I can reveal that the 
results demonstrate the extent to which the 
Pentagon.s prohibition on releasing any photos of 
the prisoners has enabled it to disguise a truly 
shocking fact: throughout Guantánamo.s history, 
one in ten of the total population -- 80 
prisoners in total -- has, at some point, weighed 
less than 112 pounds (eight stone, or 50 kg), and 
20 of these prisoners have weighed less than 98 
pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg).
If photos of these prisoners had been made 
available, it is, I believe, no understatement to 
say that calls for Guantánamo's closure would 
have been much more strident than they have been, 
and as dozens of prisoners are still on hunger 
strike, the fear is that, unless President Obama 
steps up his efforts to close Guantánamo before 
his January 2010 deadline, more will follow.

Andy Worthington
For Cageprisoners
10 June 2009

Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation

A list of 80 Guantánamo prisoners who, at various 
times between January 2002 and February 2007, 
weighed less than 112 pounds (eight stone, or 50 
kg), including 20 prisoners who weighed less than 
98 pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg)


The figures in this report -- which looks at the 
weight records of 40 released prisoners, 36 who 
are still held, and four who have died -- are 
taken from “Measurements of Heights and Weights 
of Individuals Detained by the Department of 
Defense at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” released by the Pentagon in March 2007.

This study is not an exact science, as the 
records contain some figures that do not appear 
to be reliable -- sudden and dramatic 
fluctuations in weight over a very short period 
of time, for example -- but I have removed those 
that seem to be particularly untrustworthy, and 
am confident that the figures used are as 
accurate as possible. Note that in cases where 
the prisoners. lowest weights are closely related 
to their weight on arrival, they had all put on weight before losing it again.
It should be noted, however, that this report 
deals only with extremely thin prisoners, whose 
state must have particularly endangered their 
health, and does not include numerous other 
prisoners who lost 25 to 30 percent of their body 
weight through hunger strikes, but who weighed more on arrival.

One example is Ali al-Salami, one of the three 
prisoners who died in June 2006. Al-Salami 
weighed 172 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, but 
at one point, while being force-fed daily, over a 
five-month period that lasted from 11 January 
2006 until 6 June 2006, just four days before his 
death, his weight dropped to 120 pounds.

 From almost the moment that Camp X-Ray opened, 
prisoners embarked on hunger strikes as the only 
means available to protest about the conditions 
of their detention: specifically, their 
day-to-day treatment, the treatment of the Koran, 
and the crushing uncertainty of their fate, as 
they remained imprisoned without charge and 
without trial, with the ever-present possibility 
that they would be held for the rest of their lives.

According to several sources, including “The 
Guantánamo Prisoner Hunger Strikes & Protests: 
February 2002 - August 2005” (PDF), a report 
compiled by the Center for Constitutional Rights 
in September 2005, several short hunger strikes 
took place in the earliest days of Camp X-Ray, in 
response to a guard stamping on the Koran, but 
the first large-scale hunger strike, involving 
194 prisoners, began on 27 February 2002 -- and 
continued until 10 May -- after an MP removed a 
home-made turban from a prisoner while he was 
praying. As the strike progressed, it became a 
protest against the prisoners' indefinite 
detention and their harsh living conditions, and 
by mid-March, when three strikers were forcibly 
given intravenous fluids, military officials 
acknowledged that the prisoners were protesting 
“the fact that they don't know what is happening 
to them,” and were particularly concerned about “their murky future.”

Although none of the prisoners in this report 
suffered acute weight loss at this time (the only 
prisoner cited, Abdul Razak, was a severely 
disturbed schizophrenic, who was sent back to 
Afghanistan in May 2002), 13 prisoners dropped to 
their lowest weight during a second mass hunger 
strike in October and November 2002.

Released British prisoner Tarek Dergoul reported 
that another strike -- again prompted by 
mistreatment of the Koran -- began in December 
and continued for six weeks, in which “People 
were fainting left, right and centre.” Two 
prisoners reached their lowest weights at this 
period, but others -- another 12 in 2003 and 12 
in 2004 -- do not seem to have been related to 
mass protests, and were, instead, either 
individual or small-scale protests, or, in some 
cases, a reflection of illness, either mental, physical, or both.

30 of the lowest weight figures relate to the 
largest mass hunger strike at Guantánamo, which 
involved somewhere between 140 and 200 prisoners. 
Based on a manifesto, which called for “no 
violence, by hand or even words, to anyone, 
including guards,” and declared that the protest 
was “a peaceful, non-violent strike until demands 
are met,” this involved the prisoners demanding 
religious respect, fair trials, proper food and 
clean water, the right to see sunlight, “real, 
effective medical treatment,” the right not to 
have correspondence withheld, an end to the 
“levels” of privileges introduced by Maj. Gen. 
Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the camp from 
2002 to 2004, and the appointment of a neutral 
body to oversee conditions at Guantánamo.

This strike began in the summer of 2005, and 
lasted until January 2006, when the restraint 
chairs were introduced. As a result, the number 
of hunger strikers fell from a total of 41, on 
December 15, to just five, with three of the five 
-- including Ahmed Zuhair, who has now been on a 
hunger strike for four years -- being force-fed.

Disturbingly, the records also show that the 
three men who died in June 2006 were also 
force-fed at this time: Ali al-Salami (mentioned 
above), Yasser al-Zahrani, who was weighed on a 
daily basis from October 2005 until 18 January 
2006, and Mani al-Utaybi, who was weighed 
regularly from August to October 2005. Al-Utaybi 
was then weighed daily from 24 December 2005 to 6 
February 2006, and was also weighed daily from 30 
May to 6 June, just four days before his death.

A year later, Zuhair and two other long-term 
hunger strikers -- Abdul Rahman Shalabi and Tarek 
Baada -- were still refusing to eat, and were 
still being subjected to the twice-daily 
insertion of the tubes into their stomachs, 
according to a report by Sami al-Haj (the 
al-Jazeera cameraman released in May 2008), who 
had, by this point, embarked on a hunger strike 
himself. Al-Haj also explained that, “at the end 
of January [2007] there were at least 42 people on hunger strike.”

By this time, of course, the publicly available 
Pentagon weight records used to compile this 
report had come to an end, and although Sami.s 
report cites several prisoners who are included 
here, it also mentions others who may, in the two 
and half years for which records are unavailable, 
also have suffered extreme weight loss. Given 
that a hunger strike involving up to 50 prisoners 
began on or around the seventh anniversary of the 
opening of Guantánamo, on 11 January this year, 
it seems probable, therefore, that at least some 
of these hunger strikers are, like Ahmed Zuhair, 
perilously thin and in grave danger, which is a 
grim thought on the third anniversary of the 
deaths of Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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