On september 11, 2006, al-Haj had another administrative review, this one conducted in his absence. Later he was informed that he would be remaining in Guantánamo for at least another year. In November, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, for now, has largely removed the Guantánamo detainees from the scrutiny of federal courts. The act also established a new form of military tribunal following successful court challenges to the previous system. The act requires detainees to be charged with specific offenses, and allows lawyers some access to evidence. But the Bush administration has said that it plans to prosecute only seventy or eighty detainees in the new forums; al-Haj is not one of them. More recently, the government has moved to stanch the flow of information from Guantánamo to the outside world. In April, the Pentagon sought to restrict lawyers to three visits per client. In May, it withdrew that proposal under criticism, but is still pursuing measures to monitor mail between lawyers and their clients, and to bar access by lawyers to the classified information that supports a detainee’s designation as an “enemy combatant.” Those proposals have reverberated among Guantánamo’s inhabitants. As the detainees have become increasingly despairing about the indefinite nature of their confinement, some have turned against their lawyers, while others have responded in a more drastic fashion.
At 9.30 a.m. on January 7, 2007, al-Haj began a hunger strike. (In official government Guantánamo parlance, this is known as “voluntary fasting.”) He sent a letter to his interrogator and the admiral in charge of the base, demanding respect for the prisoners’ religious rights, the proper application of the Geneva Conventions to the camp, an end to the practice of total isolation, an investigation of three prisoners who died in June 2006, and a fair trial in a U.S. court. After he stopped eating, his correspondence became noticeably less lucid. A letter dated January 10 reads: “After I miss three meal they started to punished they put me on level 4 not allowed to go for RAC and they taken everything even the bottle of water and glasses and knee band and my letters and pen even my lovely son photo. They left for me only green mat.”
Al-Haj’s weight has fluctuated wildly since he arrived at Guantánamo. In September 2006, it had climbed to 284.5 pounds, according to Defense Department records, only to drop by almost one hundred pounds in ten weeks. In a diary of his hunger strike that he wrote for his lawyers, al-Haj noted that he now weighed 167 pounds after twenty-one days of fasting. Once the weight of a detainee drops to 80 percent of his normal weight, he is required to be “enterally fed,” that is, fed liquids through a tube. In his characteristically precise manner, al-Haj described being strapped to a custom-built chair while a doctor pushed a yellow tube down his left nostril until it reached his stomach, then filled it with 250 milliliters of a liquid called Ensure.
By early June, eighteen detainees were refusing food. Al-Haj had not yet received a reply to his letter to the admiral, but he has no intention of stopping. “I will continue the struggle until we get our rights. The strike is the only way that I can protest,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, to my wife and son I say, ‘Don’t worry. What will happen will happen. One day the sun will shine again, and we will be free. Facts are facts and at last we will prevail.’”