My Hunger Strike | Prisoner 345 | My Six Years in Guantánamo

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I decided to begin a hunger strike at roughly the same time as the opening of Guantánamo’s Camp 6, around the first week of January 2007. It is crucial for me to remember those days and dates inside the cells. So I made an effort, to the extent that I could, to commit everything to memory. It was extremely difficult during the days of solitary confinement, spent almost continuously in the dark.

I prepared for my strike by reducing the amount of food I ate, then the number of meals, refusing some. I was slowly going down to eating nothing, determined to reach my goal of being on full hunger strike, in spite of the fact that I was severely constipated by the lack of food and that aggravated my hemorrhoids.

After I was refusing all meals, they cleared the cells to my right and left to make sure that nobody was passing me food in secret. An officer and doctor came to see me and explain that they would be testing my blood pressure every day, sometimes three times a day.

On January 6, 2007, one day before starting the hunger strike, I sent my five demands to the General: first, respect for Islam; second, our right to the rights in the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war; third, the right to advocate for ourselves in front of a civil court; fourth, to return the Brothers who had been isolated in Camp Echo; and fifth, an investigation into the deaths of the three prisoners who died mysteriously on June 10, 2006. I raised these demands and stopped eating as the sun rose on January 7, 2007.

That first month, I was exposed to the administration’s preliminary tactic, neglecting the hunger striker completely to make him despair and abandon his demands, pressured by hunger and thirst. At the end of the month, they began to try to tempt me, telling me that I would leave soon. They tried to reason with me: “You’re a young man with your life ahead of you. Don’t kill yourself.

Isn’t suicide haram in your religion? Your family is waiting for you.”

They were disappointed; I bore all their ploys with the support of Allah and resisted their temptation. I ended the month with unswerving determination, and they realised that I would continue my strike into the second month, especially when they saw my weight had dropped from 90 to 56 kg. So they moved me to hospital.

In the hospital, in contrast to the deliberate neglect of the days before, they began a program of care, and force-feedings. First, they were doing it intravenously, sticking me with needles several times a day. Soon, they decided to change to using a feeding tube, as my health condition had deteriorated to a point where it was necessary.

They would threaten me during the sessions: “Those you hold dear will die, you will die as a result of your refusal to eat.”

The hunger burrowed into me, from my flesh to my bones. But I was armed with faith in Allah and remained calm while they went about their business nervously. It was time for my first force-feeding.

That was a somber, bizarre day. The doctors and hospital staff gathered around me and held me down on a horrible seat that resembled an execution chair, restraining my four limbs so that I couldn’t move. Then, in what felt like an enormous violation, they painfully inserted the feeding tube down my nose.

The feeling is indescribable, horrible suffocation as the metal-tipped plastic tube was forced down my nose, seemingly cutting off my oxygen till I felt faint. Then it passed the back of my mouth and started to go down my throat, inflaming it and irritating my esophagus.

I, to this day, cannot say if what they did was intentional or a mistake, but there were several occasions when the tube ended up in my lungs instead of my stomach, and a few drops of feeding liquid would be forced into them.

Even when the tube when to the right place, the intense burning pressure caused by the feeding liquid being emptied into my stomach was almost as suffocating and brutal.

To be extra cruel, an attendant would deliberately mix three or four times the required amount of water with the feeding liquid base, sending four times as much liquid as recommended rushing into my stomach, now minuscule after over a month of not eating. I would feel I had entered a state of death, life and colour receding from my face, from my body, my breath ebbing, sweat pouring out of me, then paroxysms of vomiting would begin.

They would persist in the feeding until they were satisfied, needing to follow their procedure so they could fill out their forms. My intense intestinal pain did not seem to deter them, their faces remained grim, coated in cruelty. That first day, and in spite of the pain, I was in, I asked them to remove the restraints so I could pray. They refused, citing security, claiming I would behave violently if they removed the restraints. All I could do was cry out:

“What can a man in my situation do? Don’t talk to me about security!”

They retorted: “We don’t want to let you pray.”

There was a moment of complete silence. I called on God in my heart, thanking him for all my trials and for showing me the truth of their hearts.

I stayed in hospital for a few days, the hours passing slowly until I couldn’t distinguish night from day. I was shaken by the waves of suffering my body went through, but my Lord gave me patience and strength. I kept fighting whenever they came to restrain me for another force-feeding. I never managed to stop them, but I never let them win easily either. This continued until the day they decided I could go back to my cell.

My hunger strike passed through four stages:

  1. Hospital
  2. Between Echo and India blocks
  3. Charlie block
  4. Delta block

All were painful, all brought me through waves of anger, and all had me searching my soul for the strength I knew was there. The first and last stages were the hardest.

After the the hospital, they moved me between Echo, where I stayed, and India where they force-fed me and other hunger strikers twice a day. Soon, the administration started to worry that proximity to other strikers in Echo would encourage me to continue my strike.

After roughly a month of this program between India and Echo, I was moved to Charlie where only three other hunger strikers from India block were as well: Ahmed al-Makki, Abdul Rahman al-Madani and Muhammad Al-Amin al-Shinqiti.

Hotel, opposite Charlie, was allocated for force-feeding while I was in Charlie, a stage that was surprisingly calm, perhaps because we were starting to get used to the baseline harassment that accompanied the hunger strike. We got used to being punished, deprived of everything except our mats and clothes, even messages from our families were withheld.

For a time, the administration eased off a bit as some of the hunger strikers ended their protests because of promises made to them. But it didn’t take long for us to realise that the administration wasn’t planning on keeping those promises, and the hunger strikers increased from four to nearly twenty.

At this point, they decided to punish us, and Delta block was the place they chose for their immoral task, so they moved a number of us there. Designed like Romeo, Delta block’s cells were covered in reinforced plastic, windows sealed shut so tight that it was difficult to breathe, especially in the humid heat of Guantánamo.

The rattling noise of machinery accompanied our days and nights, punctuated by the storming of our cells and beatings that seemed to get worse every time.

If the soldiers were bored, they would use pepper spray on the hunger strikers; they wore masks, but we choked endlessly in the stagnant air of our humid cells. We couldn’t dream of sleeping, beyond the attacks and the endless noise of machinery were the nightly cleanings and random searches.

About the Author: Sami Alhaj

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