[Pnews] Force-Feeding Is Cruel, Painful, and Degrading—and American Prisons Won’t Stop

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 4 14:57:47 EDT 2019


  Force-Feeding Is Cruel, Painful, and Degrading—and American Prisons
  Won’t Stop

By Aviva Stahl - June 4, 2019

    In a Colorado supermax facility, hunger-striking inmates have been
    force-fed and barred from sharing their ordeal with the outside
    world. A prisoner breaks his silence for the first time.

It was November 11, 2015, and Mohammad Salameh hadn’t eaten in 34 days. 
The morning was stretching toward noon, and he was lying on a concrete 
platform that served as his bed when a team of guards dressed in riot 
gear appeared at his cell door and ordered him to cuff up. A week 
earlier, Salameh failed to comply with that demand—he’d been too weak to 
stand and walk to his door—so guards had entered his cell and dragged 
him out. Salameh didn’t want to be manhandled again, so he slowly pulled 
himself to his feet. He leaned against the wall and struggled slowly 
toward the guards.

At his door, the force team attached irons to his legs and handcuffed 
him. They took him to the medical-treatment room, where a physician’s 
assistant ran tests and weighed the five-foot, eight-inch prisoner at 
139 pounds. “Inmate Salameh, will you drink this nutritional supplement 
voluntarily, by mouth?” the PA asked. Salameh refused. After the guards 
stepped forward and strapped him into a black chair, the PA took a long 
tube and inserted it through his nostril and down into his stomach. Then 
a liquid the color of cream dripped through the tube into his body.

It wasn’t Salameh’s first time being force-fed. He’d been in that black 
chair nearly 200 times in the past 10 years. After his conviction in 
1994 on terrorism-related charges, he had been held in lower-security 
facilities, where life was tough but rarely so harsh that he felt he had 
to stop eating. After 9/11, though, everything changed, and by 2002 he 
was placed for the first time in the highest-security unit of the 
highest-security prison in the country: what’s known as the H Unit at 
Florence ADX, or the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum 
Facility in Florence, Colorado. There are only about a dozen people in 
the H Unit at any given time, but they may be subject to the most 
extreme conditions of long-term isolation of any jail or prison in the 
United States. It was in H Unit that Salameh began going on repeated, 
sustained hunger strikes to demand more humane conditions of confinement.

As with nearly everyone else held in the unit, Salameh’s ability to 
read, write letters, and make calls was restricted by special 
administrative measures, or SAMs. The SAMs prohibited him from being in 
contact with anybody except his lawyer and immediate family members. 
Speaking to other prisoners was against the rules. He had no access to 
current news. His hunger strike, he said, wasn’t about getting out of 
prison or getting transferred out of the ADX. He simply wanted his life 
to be more bearable.

For most Americans, force-feedings bring to mind what happened at 
Guantánamo Bay in Cubain 2005 
and 2013 
Those hunger strikes and force-feedings were covered extensively by the 
media; by contrast, the strikes at the H Unit have gotten virtually no 
attention, and that’s no accident. The SAMs don’t just isolate the men 
in their cells from the outside. They also wall the outside world off 
from what’s happening in the prison. Even family members and attorneys 
in touch with SAMs prisoners can be prosecuted and incarcerated for 
repeating anything the inmate told them—from accounts as trivial as what 
the prisoner had for breakfast to ones as substantive as abuses at the 
hands of guards. What this means is that hunger strikes are “born and 
[die] inside the institution,” as Salameh put it. During his 11 years in 
H Unit, he went on eight hunger strikes for a total of 428 days and was 
force-fed 220 times, he says. By his count, some men in the unit have 
been force-fed even more.

Decades ago, many medical associations rejected 
the force-feeding of mentally competent prisoners as a violation of 
prisoners’ bodily autonomy. Yet the brutal procedures taking place in 
Colorado, which many countries condemn for deliberately inflicting harm, 
have been hidden from the US public completely—until now.

I started reporting this story because I wanted to know how the federal 
Bureau of Prisons operates when it is unshackled from the fear of public 
scrutiny. Since it’s impossible for anyone to report on what’s currently 
happening in H Unit, I spent 18 months interviewing men held there in 
the past, as recently as 2015, alongside defense attorneys and 
physicians with expertise in force-feeding. I spent about 13 hours on 
the phone with Salameh, corresponded with four other men, and submitted 
Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain copies of medical records 
and other documents.

What I’ve found is grim: Men are driven to hunger strike in the hopes of 
securing minor concessions like the right to call home twice per month 
or read or watch the news. Sometimes, the staff at the ADX accede; other 
times, they retaliate with brutality. During one force-feeding, Salameh 
was given 16 portions of a liquid meal, only to vomit up each one in 
turn, he said.

This investigation leaves little doubt that many of the human rights 
abuses perpetrated against hunger strikers at Guantánamo, often to 
widespread public outrage, are also occurring on American soil on a 
regular basis. When I asked the BOP to comment about the force-feedings 
in H Unit, a spokesperson cited agency guidelines: “It is BOP’s 
responsibility to monitor the health and welfare of inmates and to 
ensure that procedures are pursued to preserve life.” I also sent the 
DOJ detailed questions about SAMs and force-feeding; the agency declined 
to respond. But according to United Nations officials and medical 
experts, by engaging in force-feedings with the apparent intention of 
inflicting harm and not just providing treatment, the BOP is violating 
not only medical ethics but also international law.

It’s for this reason that I didn’t ask Salameh to tell me about his 
crimes. The harm he caused should not be forgotten, but it must be held 
apart. Under international law, the right to be free from torture is 
inalienable and absolute—and that protects all of us.

Florence ADX rests at the foothills of the Rockies, about two hours 
south of Denver. On the way there, prisoners might see snowcapped 
mountains in the distance. But as soon as a vehicle pulls into the 
complex, the vastness of the Colorado landscape disappears, sometimes 

According to experts 
the ADX subjects prisoners to more extreme conditions of isolation and 
sensory deprivation than any other facility in the country. Architects 
designed the prison 
<https://systemsnspace.com/alcatraz-of-the-rockies/>, which opened in 
1994, to deter those locked up from plotting an escape. The cells are 
made entirely of concrete, with narrow windows that barely let in light. 
The outdoor recreation cages, each about five steps long and 10 steps 
wide, are built in an enclosure that resembles an empty swimming pool. 
Every prisoner spends 22 to 24 hours per day alone.

Salameh’s journey to Colorado began in 1994, when he was convicted of 
participating in the first World Trade Center attack, which killed six 
people and injured over 1,000. He served time in several high-security 
prisons without being subject to communication restrictions, but by 
2002, he and a number of other men convicted of terrorism offenses were 
moved to the ADX.

I first spoke to Salameh in 2017, after he’d been transferred to a 
different prison. He’d heard that I wanted to write an article about 
force-feeding in H Unit and offered to tell me his story. It took some 
months to develop a rapport. Phone calls from the prison cut off after 
15 minutes, and prisoners must wait another 30 minutes to call back. 
“Hello, Ms. Stahl,” he’d say in a soft Jordanian accent. “How are you 
doing today?” If I mentioned members of my family, he’d ask about them 
in subsequent calls. After I broke my wrist, he always asked about my 

On Salameh’s telling, it was the communication restrictions, not his 
three years under the extreme isolation, that drove him to stop eating. 
In March 2005, without explanation, a group of guards took him to H Unit 
and handed him the gags he would live under for 11 years. Aside from his 
attorney, Salameh could communicate only with his parents and siblings. 
He could make one phone call each month and send one three-page, 
double-sided letter each week. The FBI monitored everything. He was 
barred from TV and radio news, and reading material had to be 
individually approved. The BOP “should call them punishment or torture, 
not ‘special administrative measures’ like it’s something nice,” Salameh 
said with a chuckle. “They are really devastating.”

The men convicted alongside Salameh went on hunger strike right away to 
demand that their SAMs be lifted. He was more cautious and thought it 
through. Raised in Jordan, Salameh was born in Israeli-occupied Biddiya, 
a small village in the West Bank, and came of age when Palestinians in 
Israeli prisons were going on repeated hunger strikes 
to protest their conditions of confinement. He knew refusing to eat 
could be an effective means of resistance. Before long, he started his 
first hunger strike in the depths of the ADX.

The Bureau of Prisons moved to create SAMs in 1996, shortly after the 
Oklahoma City bombing. The regulations give the attorney general, then 
Janet Reno, discretion to impose the measures if he or she believes 
there’s a “substantial risk” that an inmate’s communications could pose 
a public threat. The regulations do not require the attorney general to 
consult a judge, and the attorney general usually justifies the measures 
on the basis of the inmate’s conviction—which in Salameh’s case occurred 
more than a decade earlier. The Department of Justice has never 
disclosed what criteria it uses to evaluate risk.

After 9/11, the DOJ changed the rules to allow for harsher restrictions 
and less oversight. The number of prisoners under SAMs began to 
multiply, from 16 in November 2001 to 30 in 2009 to 51 in June 2017. The 
vast majority of these individuals have been Muslim, according to a 2017 
issued by Yale Law School and the Center for Constitutional Rights, 
which states, “It appears that a major criterion for deciding whom to 
place under SAMs was not the person’s demonstrated capacity to 
communicate dangerous information but rather the prisoner’s religion.”

Salameh doesn’t know for sure, but he has his suspicions about how he 
ended up under SAMs. In March 2005, NBC News reported 
that he had corresponded with some men who were later arrested on 
terrorism charges. Although he had stopped communicating with the men 
before their arrest, the story prompted then–Attorney General Alberto 
Gonzales to take action. By the end of the month, Salameh was living in 
H Unit and on hunger strike.

His first force-feeding occurred about two weeks later, but the 
procedures performed on May 5 and 10 distressed him the most. The PA 
“does not pull the plastic tube after the feeding is completed gently, 
as a matter of fact, he pulls it out as he is putting it out of a bulls 
nose!!” wrote Salameh in an official complaint, called an administrative 
remedy, obtained via a FOIA request. “He was trying hard to force me to 
stop my hunger strike by any way of means even if he causes me excessive 

Salameh’s 2005 hunger strike lasted 89 days, and he was force-fed 78 
times. The feedings stopped when an official pleaded with the men to 
start eating and asked for 14 days to try to address their demands, 
Salameh recalled. He and his codefendants decided to give him a chance.

The hunger strike emerged in the late 19th century, as stocks, 
pillories, and other forms of corporal violence gave way to 
incarceration. Instead of inflicting physical pain, the state wielded 
power over the criminal body with control, hoping to compel prisoners to 
change. European and American reformers saw this as progress, yet 
prisons remained unhappy places. Almost immediately, their inhabitants 
devised ways to protest their captivity.

Laura Rovner teaches law at the University of Denver and has represented 
two men held at the ADX’s H Unit. “The one thing you really have control 
over when you’re in prison is what you put into your body,” she said. 
“When everything else is taken away from you and you aren’t heard in any 
other way, [hunger strikes] are what you have left.”

A hunger striker isn’t suicidal but is willing to risk his life for the 
sake of a cause. For medical professionals, this distinction is 
essential. “A hunger strike is not a medical situation. It is a 
political act,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of medicine at 
Boston University and an expert on force-feeding. As with any other 
condition, if a hunger striker is competent and understands the risks of 
declining care, the physician must respect that wish, even if it means 
watching the patient die.

One of thefirst known force-feedings 
took place in 1909 in a jail in Birmingham, England, when a 
hunger-striking suffragist named Mary Leigh had a tube inserted into her 
nose and a pint of milk and eggs poured into her body. Many doctors at 
the time opposed the procedure. In 1914 a physician named Frank Moxon 
described force-feeding as a “prostitution of the profession” and argued 
that doctors were violating the Hippocratic oath in the service of 
prison discipline. By 1975, the World Medical Association adopted its 
first resolution 
publicly opposing the practice, yet in the United States, to this day, 
most courts have held that force-feeding is constitutional, including if 
it is done to maintain the security of the institution. (The WMA 
reiterated its opposition to the practice in a 1991 declaration.) 
Doctors or PAs who force-feed prisoners are unlikely to lose their 
licenses, but professional organizations have condemned the practice. 
During the 2013 hunger strikes at Guantánamo, American Medical 
Association president Jeremy Lazarus said 
force-feeding violated “core ethical values of the medical profession.”

After his 2005 strike, Salameh said, the officer who got him to start 
eating failed to obtain the concessions the strikers asked for. Nothing 
changed: Every morning, he opened his eyes and found himself trapped in 
the same small box. His solid door had two slots, one for food 
deliveries and the other for leg shackles, and metal strips at the 
bottom to prevent prisoners from communicating. The cell contained a 
bed, desk, and stool, all made of concrete, along with a stainless-steel 
sink and toilet and a 12-inch black-and-white TV. His entire living 
space—where he ate, slept, read, urinated, and defecated—was 8 feet by 
10 feet. He could cross it in four steps.

In H Unit, human contact came at the cost of humiliation. In an 
affidavit, one of Salameh’s codefendants, Nidal Ayyad, said that some 
men on the unit would put their faces in the toilet and try to talk 
through the plumbing. “Putting my face in the toilet in order to try to 
talk with someone is something I’m not willing to do,” he wrote. The men 
could go years without being touched by someone other than a guard. 
Besides the rare phone call and visit, months would pass by before they 
exchanged more than a few words with another person. “How am I supposed 
to live without speaking to another human being?” another former H Unit 
inmate, Uzair Paracha, asked me during a phone call.

The harms of solitary are well documented. Studies 
have shown long-term isolation can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, 
hypersensitivity to stimuli, and suicide attempts; in 2011, a UN 
official called 
for prohibition of the practice in excess of 15 days. According to a 
filed in 2012 and settled in 2016, men at the ADX grew so 
psychologically unstable from being alone that they smeared feces onto 
open wounds and swallowed razor blades.

Most prisoners at the ADX—those without SAMs—face fewer constraints on 
writing letters, accessing news, or communicating with others. The 
additional layers of isolation weighed on the men. Salameh was granted 
permission to read /USA Today/, but for his first few years in H Unit, 
he could read papers no fewer than 30 days old. The ADX was allowed to 
take 60 business days to mail out a letter in Arabic and 60 days to 
process an incoming one, so if Salameh wrote to his mother in Jordan in 
January, he might not hear back before July. He was prohibited from 
writing directly to prospective attorneys or legal clinics, making it 
difficult, though not impossible, for him to fight his conditions in 
court. In a rare victory in 2014, a federal judge ruled that the DOJ 
violated a SAMs prisoner’s First Amendment rights in “arbitrarily and 
capriciously” limiting contact with family and friends. According to 
attorney Paul Wolf, who fought the case, the ruling helped his client 
but did not affect conditions in H Unit more broadly.

Salameh’s family went to visit him at ADX just once, in 2012, the year 
after his father died. His mother came with one of his sisters, whom he 
hadn’t seen since she was a child. At the time of the visit, she was an 
adult with a family. When I asked him to tell me about it, he sighed, 
and when he began to speak, his voice trembled. It was the only time he 
became emotional during an interview.

Each year around the middle of March, Salameh received a letter stating 
that his SAMs had been renewed. Despite minor adjustments to the 
restrictions, there never seemed to be a clear way to get them removed. 
He filed hundreds of requests and approached guards informally, asking 
them to intervene. “I received the Special Administrative Measures 
(SAMs) extension for the third time without any due process or any 
hearing by [a] Disinterested Committee,” he wrote in an administrative 
remedy dated July 2007. “These SAMs restrictions are unjustified, 
unfair, illegal, inhumane, oppressive [and] unconstitutional.” The BOP’s 
Central Office responded in October, “You may object to the provisions 
of the SAMs, but as you were appropriately advised, the Bureau merely 
informs you of the requirements of the SAMs, and ensures the measures 
are followed,” adding that they would remain in place “until the 
Attorney General determines it is no longer necessary.”

The men in H Unit were alive, but what did that mean when their 
connection to the outside world was so tenuous? “Sometimes the unit 
feels like a graveyard,” wrote Salameh’s codefendant Ayyad in an 
affidavit. “There is no sound and everyone is in his grave [cell].” Some 
inmates believed they would be on the measures until they died.

Salameh developed a pattern of behavior. He would go on hunger strike 
for a while, get force-fed, stop, and recuperate. Then, he’d start all 
over again. After the 2005 strike, he stopped demanding that the SAMs be 
lifted entirely, asking only for increased outside recreation time and 
permission to make two phones calls per month. In 2006 he went on hunger 
strike for 72 days and was force-fed about 35 times, he said. He also 
went on hunger strikes in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Affidavits from current and former inmates indicate that others have 
fallen into a similar routine. Two individuals told me another former H 
Unit inmate, Eyad Ismoil, was force-fed more than 400 times during his 
time there.

Salameh conveyed his determination to keep protesting with a line from a 
poem he translated from Arabic: “Make me drink the bitter cup, but with 
dignity.” Salameh accepted that he would die in prison; wasn’t that enough?

Force-feedings occur in other US prisons, too, though it’s unclear how 
often and where. State facilities have maintained the practice for 
decades, and over the past few months, /The New York Times/ reported 
that detainees in ICE custody were force-fed after refusing to eat in 
protest of their indefinite detention. Just like the BOP, ICE and state 
prison systems have hunger-strike policies in place guiding how and when 
the procedure—which they term “involuntary feeding”—should be conducted. 
Yet experts believe that force-feedings in the H Unit may surpass those 
at any other.

Robert Hood, now a national-security consultant, was the warden at the 
ADX from 2002 to 2005, including when Salameh arrived at the facility. 
During Hood’s more than 20 years working for the BOP, he worked at nine 
institutions and served as a warden or associate warden at four. He said 
there were more hunger strikes at the ADX than at other BOP institutions 
and that those strikes tended to last longer than elsewhere. “To my 
knowledge, most involuntary feedings at the supermax would have occurred 
on an H Unit setting,” he said over the phone. When I asked the BOP for 
data on force-feeding across its facilities, a FOIA officer insisted no 
such data was kept. However, CBS News reported that as many as 900 
“involuntary feedings” were performed on H Unit residents from 2001 to 
2007. The BOP did not dispute this finding.

While the men in H Unit were prohibited from speaking to one another, 
they always figured out when someone else had started a hunger strike. 
The biggest one Salameh took part in occurred in 2009, when about 10 of 
12 H Unit prisoners participated, according to two men who were there. 
It started after Barack Obama’s inauguration, when a prisoner on the 
unit requested a copy 
of his memoir /The Audacity of Hope/, along with some Islamic texts. The 
books were denied on national-security grounds. Within a few weeks, 
Salameh told me, that individual and two others were on hunger strike. 
Soon, the strike grew.

Salameh didn’t join in immediately; he was still recovering from his 
last attempt. But he understood the impulse. He’d been denied many 
books, including a copy of the 2008 CIA /World Factbook/. “We were in 
the worst situation that the BOP could offer,” said Uzair Paracha, 
another participant. “Things couldn’t get worse for us, and they were 
not willing to let them get better.”

On May 5, Salameh was ready for another try. He knew what to expect: The 
first 24 hours would be bearable, until the pain in his stomach began. 
By the fifth day, he could hardly take it. After a week, his body would 
adjust. Still, he would grow progressively weaker until all he could do 
was rest; when he’d stand up, darkness and light would flutter across 
his vision.

The Bureau of Prisons considers someone to be on hunger strike after 
they refuse meals for 72 hours. Once it becomes official, many of the 
prisoner’s personal belongings are taken, and the medical checkups 
start. Three times a week, a five-person force team amassed in front of 
Salameh’s cell, along with a lieutenant, a physician’s assistant, two 
guards with cameras, and another carrying gear. A member of the force 
team would then say, “Inmate Salameh, are you willing to submit to the 
restraints?” If he had the strength, Salameh would walk to the door to 
be shackled. Then, it was off to the medical observation room—and 
perhaps, if the medical staff decided it was necessary, the 
force-feeding chair.

Salameh said the force-feedings in H Unit followed a routine. First, the 
guards moved him to a black chair. They secured straps around his shins, 
thighs, and knees and diagonally across his torso to form an X. His 
wrists were handcuffed behind his back during the feeding, which 
sometimes lasted hours. Once he was strapped in, the PA would approach 
with a nasogastric tube, measure it, and insert it into Salameh’s 
nostril, attempting to guide it into his stomach, which was always very 
painful. On some days, the tube would come out of Salameh’s mouth. 
“Many, many times,” he said, it would enter his windpipe, and he would 
start “coughing like someone is choking [me] to death” from the inside. 
(These episodes cannot be corroborated, as they are not noted in his 
medical records, which are generally sparse.) By the time he left H 
Unit, his force-feedings tended to occur much later in the course of his 
strikes, and less frequently.

Force-feeding is dangerous. In hunger strikes as early as 1917 and as 
recently as 1992, prisoners died as a result. The cause of death was 
usually from the tube being placed into the striker’s trachea instead of 
the esophagus, so the liquid entered the lungs rather than the stomach, 
causing the person to suffocate or develop pneumonia. Other 
complications include abrasions to the nasal tissue, throat, esophagus, 
or lungs. The more frequently the procedure is conducted and the more 
the prisoner resists it, the greater the risks. In order to ensure 
Salameh did not die in his care, once the PA believed the tube was in 
place, he blew air into it using a syringe and listened to Salameh’s 
belly. Then he would start dripping the liquid meal into the tube.

One of the most brutal force-feedings Salameh recalls was on March 20, 
2006. As the Novasource, the nutritional supplement, trickled into his 
body, he tightened his stomach and intentionally caused himself to 
vomit. The PA put a bowl on his lap so the liquid wouldn’t spill onto 
the floor but did not stop the procedure. After Salameh vomited the 
first carton of Novasource, the PA poured a second one into the tube, 
which Salameh vomited again. At first, he vomited intentionally, but 
then he lost control. “I wished at that time that I can stop, but I 
couldn’t,” he recalled. Every time the bowl got full, the PA took it and 
poured the vomit into the toilet, then continued his work.

According to his medical records, Salameh stared into the camera that 
was recording the procedure. “Captain, this is for you,” he said. Then 
he addressed the PA. “The lion does not want to be fed. I will do the 
same tomorrow if you try to feed me.” (All use-of-force episodes are 
videotaped and reviewed by senior management. I requested copies of 
Salameh’s tapes from the BOP and will be challenging the FOIA denial in 

Over the course of 90 minutes, the PA attempted to feed Salameh 16 
cartons of Novasource, about a gallon of the liquid, only to have him 
vomit up each one. About a week later, after several other feedings, 
Salameh experienced flu-like symptoms and ran a fever—a sign of possible 
aspiration, which can lead to pneumonia. He was prescribed antibiotics, 
and the symptoms subsided. Another former H Unit inmate described a 
similar incident in which he was overfed to the point of becoming ill.

After every force-feeding, the men were taken to an empty observation 
room, where they waited, sometimes for hours, before being allowed to 
return to their cells. Unlike at Guantánamo, the medical staff at the 
ADX would conduct daytime feedings during Ramadan, according to 
Salameh—a policy that he said was designed to “break [us] down.” Crosby, 
the Boston University force-feeding expert, reviewed Salameh’s records 
at my request and said there was no medical rationale behind them. “In 
my opinion, putting 16 cans of Ensure or some kind of nutritional 
supplement would not only be clinically inappropriate but, it seems to 
me, with an intent to punish or to cause physical discomfort.”

At the very least, according to past statements by UN officials, 
force-feeding as conducted at the ADX would qualify as cruel, inhuman 
and degrading treatment. “When the circumstances of forced feeding 
include evidence of an intent to inflict pain and suffering for a 
purpose like punishment, intimidation, or coercion, forced feeding 
becomes torture,” said Margaret L. Satterthwaite, who teaches 
international law at New York University. Salameh once told me he would 
have preferred to be waterboarded rather than force-fed, because the 
public understands that waterboarding is a form of torture. 
Force-feeding was done under the guise of benevolence, while its true 
intent was something far more sinister. “Ask why they torture us. They 
don’t want to save your life. They want to pressure you to stop your 
hunger strike.”

In March 2015, Salameh’s SAMS renewal notification arrived, citing his 
previous hunger strikes as evidence of his “extremist and violent 
views.” The year before, an FBI agent testified in federal court that 
the strikes in H Unit constituted an “Al Qaeda conspiracy.”

“That’s baloney,” said Salameh of the allegation. “They are trying to 
undermine our hunger strike,” to draw attention away from conditions the 
men were trying to protest, he explained.

The SAMs renewal didn’t stop Salameh from striking again in the fall. 
After 18 days, he was transferred from H Unit to a medical-observation 
cell whose walls, he said, were covered in feces. He was force-fed after 
34 days and soon resumed eating out of concern the medical staffers 
weren’t well trained. He didn’t secure his demand for more food rations. 
“I’m hunger striking for food!” he said, laughing. “It’s funny if you 
think about it.”

Based on conversations with five former prisoners and a review of 
medical records, legal documents, and past reporting, from 2005 to 2016, 
as many as two-thirds of H Unit prisoners participated in hunger 
strikes. They were collectively force-fed hundreds if not thousands of 
times. With assistance from lawyers, they won concessions, including 
more telephone calls, more recreation time, fewer restrictions on 
outside media, and the ability to conduct no-contact visits unshackled.

But these hunger strikes in H Unit didn’t prompt investigations into 
conditions there or condemnations from the American Medical Association 
or calls from elected officials about the need for change. At 
Guantánamo, said Pardiss Kebriaei, a lawyer with the Center for 
Constitutional Rights, attorneys could visit their clients on hunger 
strike, hand their interview notes to government censors, and get some 
version back that could be released. Not so at the ADX. There “the 
hunger strike is buried,” said Salameh. “Nobody will know about it…and 
that helps the government not to give up anything.”

That’s largely because hunger strikers rely on the media to convey their 
concerns—and the SAMs make that task all but impossible. In 2013 nearly 
30,000 people incarcerated in California went on hunger strike 
to protest long-term isolation. After about two months and extensive 
media coverage, they secured substantive policy changes. (The state 
successfully petitioned a court for legal permission to force-feed 
prisoners, but there is no indication force-feedings later took place.)

SAMs gag those best equipped to help prisoners speak out, like lawyers 
and family members. “It was as if from that moment [when the 
restrictions were imposed], the government decided that he ceased to 
exist,” said the sister of a former H Unit inmate. “I could talk about 
him in the past tense but not in the present tense. I could talk about 
who he was but not who he is.”

The SAMs also make reporting about life in H Unit extraordinarily 
difficult. Nearly all the former H Unit prisoners I spoke to worried our 
conversations could land them back at the ADX. Salameh was put on 
communication restrictions for a period during my reporting and suspects 
it was due to our contact. Former SAMs prisoners are not restricted from 
speaking about their past, but out of caution, most lawyers opt not to 
talk about what happened to their clients on SAMs, even after the 
measures have been lifted—which makes reporting on the prisons even 
harder. Since 9/11, journalists have been denied entry to the ADX 
facility almost without exception. Not even the UN special rapporteur on 
torture has been allowed in.

In March 2016, after years of legal challenges from his attorney, 
Salameh learned his SAMs would not be renewed. The news was a relief: 
His mental health had started deteriorating, to the extent that he’d 
asked for psychiatric care. Today he’s at USP Big Sandy, a high-security 
prison in Kentucky. The trauma of H Unit comes back to him in his 
dreams. But whatever violence he has endured, and whatever violence he 
may have caused, life goes on. In November 2017 Salameh’s sister gave 
birth to twins. When we spoke, he said they were “beautiful babies,” and 
his voice was full of light. Then came the humor: “I was thinking maybe 
they can name one of them…after me, but they already named them.”

As the time for the publication of this article neared, Salameh 
disclosed he’d been advised to use a pseudonym out of concern he might 
face retaliation from BOP staff. But he decided to risk it; he said 
there’s intrinsic value in bringing these long-buried truths to light. 
“For me, it is history,” he once told me. “It needs to be known.”

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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