Today is the third anniversary of the deaths in Guantánamo of three prisoners, Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani. The anniversary comes just two weeks after the second anniversary of the death of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, the fourth prisoner to die in mysterious circumstances, and just eight days after the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih. The authorities maintain that the men died by committing suicide, although doubts about this explanation have repeatedly been voiced by former prisoners. However, it is also significant that all five men were long-term hunger strikers.
Cageprisoners is marking this sad anniversary with a brief report about the Guantánamo hunger strikers, and the dreadful toll that rolonged starvation – and brutal force-feeding, which is the response of the US military – exacts on prisoners held, for the most part, without charge or trial in a seemingly endless legal limbo. Force-feeding involves prisoners being strapped into a restraint chair and force-fed twice daily against their will, through an agonizing process that involves having a tube inserted into the stomach through the nose.
In March 2007, the Pentagon released a series of documents, “Measurements of Heights and Weights of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” which recorded, in numbing detail, the prisoners’ weights, from the date of their arrival and, in general, at monthly intervals thereafter until December 2006, when these particular records come to an end.
In the cases of prisoners on hunger strike, the weights were recorded at weekly intervals, and, in some cases, on a daily basis.
Unnoticed at the time of their release, these documents have not, until now, been analyzed in depth, but after conducting a comprehensive review of the documents I can reveal that the results demonstrate the extent to which the Pentagon’s prohibition on releasing any photos of the prisoners has enabled it to disguise a truly shocking fact: throughout Guantánamo’s history, one in ten of the total population – 80 prisoners in total – has, at some point, weighed less than 112 pounds (eight stone, or 50 kg), and 20 of these prisoners have weighed less than 98 pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg).