Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.
To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, "Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes," produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.
The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity.
Speaking about the film, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, Cori Crider, said, "The details of what goes on in Guantánamo are either completely hidden from the public or censored. Even what my clients say to me, their lawyer, is monitored. This animation cuts straight through the sterilized Gitmo the US government would have us believe in to the ugly reality my clients face. Over half of the  prisoners [still held] have been cleared for release for years, including British resident Shaker Aamer. Yet he and the others remain without charge or trial. Obama must send the cleared men home."
To follow the release of the film, the Observer published a separate article explaining letters from the prisoners have provided an insight into the "punitive tactics" used by the authorities to break the hunger strike.
Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian whose account of the hunger strike I made available in July, said that Shaker Aamer "had been targeted and humiliated by the authorities to the point where it became impossible" for him to continue his protest.
As Abu Wa’el Dhiab explained, the Extreme Reaction Force (or Immediate Reaction Force), the five-man team responsible for enforcing compliance through violence, "would 'storm’ Aamer’s cell five times a day in an attempt to crush his resolve during the strike." In his letters, Dhiab wrote, "They have deprived him of food, water and medicine. Then the riot squad uses the excuse of giving him water and food and medicine to storm his cell again."
He added, "They took him to the clinic, tore his clothes off and left him with only his underwear for long hours, taunting him."
In his correspondence, as the Guardian described it, Samir Moqbel "alleged that throwing the prisoners into isolation helped break the protest, which lasted more than 200 days and drew such international attention that President Barack Obama reiterated his intention to close the camp."
In addition, Ahmed Belbacha "corroborated the claim that solitary confinement was used as a punishment for prisoners making political statements." He "described how the authorities were punishing hunger strikers by confiscating their belongings," as the Guardian put it. As he wrote, "My glasses, legal papers, toothbrush, toothpaste and all my other necessities have been taken."
Samir Moqbel "added that other tactics were utilised to whittle down the size of the hunger strike," explaining that "the temperature was deliberately manipulated to make conditions inside the camp even more uncomfortable and that during the hunger strike searches of cells were timed to disrupt detainees’ sleep."
As Cori Crider noted, "The US authorities have, with some glee, announced the hunger strike to be over. What they fail to tell you is the horrific things they did to crush the hunger strikers’ spirits, as my clients have described. And yet still there are at least 16 men striking and being brutally force-fed twice a day."
The Guardian also noted that Shaker Aamer’s lawyers are concerned about his health, because he "has refused one visit and three phone calls since August." His family, in London, explained that they were "fearful that his treatment has dangerously weakened his health." It was also noted that Prime Minister David Cameron "has recently written to President Barack Obama in another direct attempt aimed at 'securing Aamer’s release and return to the UK.’"
In a press release today, Reprieve have added further information, noting that the recent silence from Shaker may be because, "in order to take calls or have meetings with their lawyers, detainees must endure an arduous process which can involve genital groping." This intrusive and insensitive policy began in May, and it continues, even though, in July, District Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued an order banning the guards from "conducting genital searches of detainees before meetings with their attorneys and described the practice as an 'exaggerated response’ to security concerns," as the Washington Post described it. Judge Lamberth wrote, "The choice between submitting to a search procedure that is religiously and culturally abhorrent or foregoing counsel effectively presents no choice for devout Muslims like petitioners."
Reprieve also point out that, in a recent phone call with his lawyer, Samir Moqbel said, "It’s very difficult to continue the hunger strike for more than seven months. Whoever wants to continue the hunger strike will be put in isolation. Even the nutrition person told us that the Colonel wants us to stop or go to isolation. So how can you continue your hunger strike when people are treating you this way? There was a lot of pressure to put a stop to our peaceful hunger strike which was just peacefully asking for our rights."
If you find the video useful, please do what you can to let others know about it. We all need to keep the pressure on President Obama to fulfill his promise to resume releasing cleared prisoners. It should not need saying that force-feeding them, instead of releasing them, as they were promised nearly four years ago, is a shockingly callous way to act.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and "The Complete Guantánamo Files," an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Please also consider joining the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.