The torture began under President George W. Bush, Gitmo prisoner Imad Abdullah Hassan alleges. It left him broken. And the torture continues under President Obama. The 34-year-old Yemeni has been a prisoner for 12 years. No charges have ever been filed against him. Though cleared for release five years ago, he remains captive. And in his telling, he is tortured daily by American medical staff and guards.
His lawsuit is Imad Abdullah Hassan v. Barack Obama. Be forewarned that his declaration, which comes via the sworn statement of his attorney, is extremely graphic.
Decide for yourself whether his treatment constitutes torture.
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The hunger strike is one place to begin.
To protest their plight, many Guantanamo prisoners have refused food at one time or another. Hassan has been among the most dedicated. "Mr. Hassan informs me that he is on a hunger strike because—similar to President Obama—he believes that it is wrong for the U.S. to detain prisoners, without charge or trial in Guantanamo," his attorney states. "His hunger strike is a peaceful protest, based in part upon the example of a number of people he respects, including Mahatma Ghandi."
The U.S. government has tried to break his hunger strike.
Initially, he was force-fed in the prisoner hospital, where a small tube was inserted through his nostril and left in place. A medical officer told him that continually inserting and removing the tube could cause various medical complications.
Over time, Hassan charges, the force-feeding was made deliberately less pleasant for prisoners. Circa November 2005, his attorney writes, a new process was introduced:
- Prisoners were strapped to a hospital bed prior to feeding.
- Larger tubes were used, and they caused undue pain when forced into the nostrils of the prisoners.
- A funnel was used to channel large amounts of liquid into the tube.
In fact, so much liquid was forced through that the second time Hassan underwent this procedure, he lost consciousness and spent two days in critical condition.
The procedure wasn't used again. In late 2005 or early 2006, new methods were adopted. That is the way Hassan has been force-fed ever since, according to the declaration.
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Is force-feeding torture? I don't have a general answer to that question. But if Hassan has indeed spent much of the last eight years being force-fed using the method I am about to describe, then I believe he has been the victim of illegal torture.
Here are some relevant details that the lawsuit alleges:
- At Gitmo, they began to use tubes that were too big for Hassan's nostrils.
- Rather than leaving them in place, they would insert and remove them twice a day.
- Prisoners were force-fed in what Hassan called "the Torture Chair." Hands, legs, waist, shoulders and head were strapped down tightly. The men were also force-fed constipation drugs, causing them to defecate on themselves as they sat in the chair being fed. "People with hemorrhoids would leave blood on the chair and the linens would not always be changed before the next feeding." They'd be strapped down amid the shit and blood for up to two hours at a time.
- But quicker wasn't always better. That's because Gitmo staff started force-feeding much more liquid into the prisoners. Sometimes they sped up the process, leaving the amount of liquid constant. "If Mr. Hassan vomited on himself at any time during the procedure, what he terms 'the atrocity' would start all over again." Severe gastric pain was common.
- "Early on in this new and more abusive phase ... authorities took Mr. Hassan and two others to another block so that others would see what was being done to them. This was obviously done as a deterrent to scare others into not hunger striking."
At various times, these methods were combined with other forms of abuse, the lawsuit continues. "The air-conditioning was turned up and detainees were deprived of a blanket. This was particularly difficult for the hunger strikers, as they inevitably felt the cold more than someone who was eating." Detainees on hunger strikes were also refused the right to participate in communal prayers, and the prison-camp guards "would bang the cells all day and all night to prevent sleep."
Force-feeding and associated abuses led some to commit suicide, Hassan alleges. And his fate? He has severe gastric pain, damage to both his nostrils, sinus problems, and bouts of pancreatitis, sometimes brought on by the use of a high-fat nutritional supplement. "Mr. Hassan insists that the doctors at Guantanamo do not protect his health or interests," the complaint states. "He has related that the doctors' only object appears to be to find ways to make the detainees bend to the military's will."
There is much more in the declaration. But a single exchange between Hassan and his captors will suffice for our conclusion, for it is a perfect summary: "Mr. Hassan told them that one day they would face judgment. This had no effect on them."