The Guantánamo Hunger Strike Gets a NYT Op-Ed

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 15 2013 11:09 AM

The Guantánamo Hunger Strike Gets a NYT Op-Ed

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The guard tower at the enterance to Camp Five and Camp Six detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Today, the New York Times has an op-ed from a Yemeni inmate on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay. At least 40 other prisoners are on strike with Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, who has been at the camp since 2002.

While the reasons given for the hunger strike have ranged from mistreatment of the Quran to the camp's living conditions, Moqbel's motivation is a little more simple: He's still in Guantánamo. Here's a snippet from the op-ed, headlined by the Times "Gitmo Is Killing Me":

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I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial. I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a 'guard' for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either ... The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.

Documents from 2008 published by the Times indicate that Moqbel was captured in December 2001 and identified as a guard for Bin Laden. Moqbel obviously disputes this claim. It's not clear from the editorial what his current status is in the eyes of the government, but his story, dictated by phone, illustrates just how desperate he and other striking prisoners are for some movement on their cases. Moqbel is one of at least a dozen prisoners being force fed, which he describes: 

Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping. There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up. During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not. It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me.

According to the BBC, fewer than 100 Guantánamo prisoners have been cleared for release but not sent home for various security and political reasons. Yemenis make up a plurality of prisoners at the camp, the Associated Press reports, and they're apparently not allowed to leave. Even though Yemen's government has demanded the release of those cleared to do so, the Obama administration has argued against this, saying that the country is too unstable to guarantee that former detainees won't join militant groups if they're sent back home. 

The hunger strike, which started in February, led to clashes in the camp this weekend as guards moved many striking prisoners out of communal cell blocks

Read the full piece in the New York Times

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.