international affairs

What It’s Like to Be Force-Fed at Guantánamo Bay

This image reviewed by the US military shows the front gate of
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Over the weekend, the dozens of detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay clashed with guards who were attempting to move them from communal living to individual cells in hopes of quelling resistance. This morning, the prisoners’ side of the larger battle is laid bare in a New York Times op-ed titled “Gitmo Is Killing Me” by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, who delivered the dispatch over the phone, through a translator, to his lawyer. It is harrowing. “I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds,” he writes. “I will not eat until they restore my dignity.”

Moqbel describes the alleged circumstances that led to his eleven-plus years at Guantánamo — moving from Yemen to Afghanistan for work, and eventually being accused of guarding Osama bin Laden — but notes, “I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.” Now, twice a day, he is force-fed:

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

The schedule is erratic, he writes, and the overseers overwhelmed: “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.” The rush to feed everyone, he says, results in a sloppy, more painful experience. “It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me,” Moqbel writes of one particularly brutal experience. “The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the ‘food’ spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.” Try to stomach the rest.

Guantánamo Prisoner Writes New York Times Op-Ed