Guantanamo Hunger Strikers Accuse US of Manipulating Force-feeding Data

Spencer Ackerman

Recent letters written by Guantánamo Bay detainees on hunger strike accuse the US military of manipulating data about the strike and using force-feeding techniques as a method of punishment.

Letters from a Yemeni detainee, Emad Hassan, and a Saudi former resident of the UK, Shaker Aamer, describe a core of “around 17” hunger strikers, down from a peak of 106 last spring. But the letters allege that the number is kept artificially low by a “new strategy” of only force-feeding detainees when their weight reaches dangerous levels, which the US military denied.

The letters come as the Defense Department admitted, for the first time, that it has recorded video of some of the Guantánamo force-feedings.

They also come months after the US military command at the detention facility, stung by criticism of its handling of the hunger strike, drastically curtailed the release of information about the residual strikers.

A Miami Herald tally reported that fewer than 40 detainees were on strike as of March 19. There are 154 detainees still at Guantánamo.

“There is a scheme here to avoid blame about the force-feeding,” wrote Hassan, a Yemeni and persistent hunger striker who remains at Guantánamo despite the US government clearing him for transfer in 2010.

If a hunger striker declines what the military describes as an enteral feeding — performed by inserting a tube into a detainee’s stomach through the nose — the detainee will not be forcibly fed “until it’s a critical situation”, meaning the detainee’s weight has dropped substantially, Hassan wrote in a letter to his lawyers around late March or early April.

The US military command at Guantánamo denied the allegations made by the detainees and defended its treatment of the strikers.

“Medical personnel monitor detainees’ health on a regular basis to ensure the detainees’ safety,” said Commander John Filostrat, a spokesman, who added that enteral feedings “are used only when the detainee’s health is in danger.”

Letters from Guantánamo detainees undergo a time-consuming declassification process. They were provided to the Guardian by Reprieve, a UK-based human rights group that represents several detainees.

Guantánamo doctors, Hassan alleged, do not consider detainees as being on hunger strike if they are not currently forcibly fed.

“When the doctor stops feeding four detainees, he decreases the total number of hunger strikers to 13. When their weight goes down and the doctors have to feed him, he cancels three or four others so he can keep the numbers of hunger strikers low. I am hesitating between refusing the feeding until the doctors decide to force-feed me, and waiting to see what will happen in the next two-three weeks.”

Filostrat said: “That allegation is false.”

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