Wasting Away in Guantanamo

A Journalist’s Lawyer Reports

CJR’s July/August issue featured a long story on Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay with only the barest of legal review since June 14, 2002. Rachel Morris closed her piece by describing al-Hal’s decision to go on hunger strike protest the prison’s conditions, and his lack of a fair trial.

Today his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that even though al-Haj (who once weighed 284 pounds) is looking “very thin,” the strike is still on.

Sami’s strike began 271 days ago. 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 U.S. 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. Have you ever pushed a 43-inch tube up your nostril and down into your throat? Tonight, Sami will suffer that for the 479th time.

More on Guantanamo force feeding here, if you can bear it.

As Morris pointed out, Al-Haj, like 55% of Guantanamo inmates, has not been publicly charged—let alone found guilty—of “committing any aggressive acts against the U.S.”

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.