Letter to Clive Stafford Smith, August 9, 2005
August 9, 2005
These are some of my notes on the hunger strike:
The strike began on July 12 in block 4, that is, the Whisky Barracks, where all the prisoners have joined up and the number is now up to 190 strikers.
We were asking for two things:
That the prison officials stop treating all prisoners so harshly, especially the prisoners of block 5.
A vast improvement in the quality of medical attention and the cessation of all forced practices against the prisoners, like forced sedation and “inoculations,” as well as the end of any practices that make fun of the prisoner’s mental condition.
A very large group of visitors came to Delta Barracks on July 15. I believe that they were Congressmen of the United States. For some reasons only known to the people in charge, the delegates were not allowed to visit block 4. Perhaps it was because of the tension that had been created there. Anyway they visited the hospital that is next to Whisky Barracks.
Frustrated and desperate, the prisoners started shouting and screaming so that the visitors could hear, trying to make them aware oftheir plight. Some were shouting: “Freedom!” Others were shouting, “Bush is just like Hitler!” Others complained by shouting: “This is a gulag,” that is to say, a place of forced work and slavery.
At this point some visitors tried to come closer to Whisky Barracks trying to hear better what the prisoners were shouting, without paying attention to the warnings of the guards. At the same time others were looking at us contemptuously, and the rest seemed indignant at what was happening.
On July 17 at five o’clock in the afternoon the soldiers started moving by force all the prisoners in Whiskey Barracks (we think that they did this as a punishment for what happened during the visit of the Congress people, two days earlier). They moved 18 prisoners to blocks 2 and 3, where conditions are more punitive; one of them is your client, Jamil al-Banna. As the commanding officer seemed to detect a slight sign of resistance, he sent for the brutal anti-riot unit. At the end of the operation the authorities had moved 18 prisoners from two cage blocks, while the rest of the prisoners in Whisky Barracks were demanding to be transferred with their friends to blocks 2 and 3.
Meanwhile in block 4 the conditions deteriorated. Those who were still there also asked to be transferred to blocks 2 and 3. In the end approximately 40 prisoners asked for the transfer, and decided to leave all their possessions behind and congregate at the entrance of the block to show show their captors that they were determined to be taken seriously.
At three o’clock in the afternoon of July 18 the transfer of prisoners to blocks 2 and 3 began.
Meanwhile, as the strike continued, the prisoners started shouting together: “Why are we the enemy?” The camp Commandant said that he had no authority to change our juridical status. They said to us that Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, had written from Washington to him asking to apply the Geneva Convention in Guantánamo.
For us the most important aim to achieve was the closure of block 5, because the conditions were the most terrible of all there.
Some officials came and promised that they would open a shop in which we could buy supplies. They said that our families could send us money, and that they would give 3 dollars a week to the prisoners who had no money. Prisoners would be allowed to meet in assembly to debate our problems, to define our positions and to negotiate with the authorities. But there would be no confidential or private communication among the prisoners. We managed, however, to pass written messages, which we swallowed as soon as they were read, among ourselves, When the authorities found out, they were enraged.
On August 5 the case of Hisham al-Sulayti provoked serious problems. This prisoner had resisted in an interrogation session, so the soldiers desecrated the Koran yet again. There were many times when the sacred Book was desecrated. For example, a military policeman had ordered the Yemeni al-Shamrani to do something while he was praying. He answered that he would do it as soon as he finished praying. Immediately all the military policemen rushed forward and hit him in the face until it was covered with blood and then they started stamping and kicking the Koran.
That was not the first time it happened. Another Yemeni, Hakim, was told that he represented a serious danger to his prison guards because he had learned the Koran by heart. That was a real insult to the Moslem faith.
There was also the case of Saad from Kuwait, dragged to an interrogation session where he was forced to spend five hours with a woman who was sexually explicit in front of him. And the case of the young Canadian Omar Jadr, also forced into isolation to bequestioned.
They sent prisoners to block 3, also known as Romeo, where they were humiliated; they were forced to wear short trousers and they were left without food or drink for 24 hours.
On August 8 the Camp Commandant stopped the prisoners’ assemblies because the day before blocks 2 and 3 went on hunger strike; block 1 joined the strike two days later.
As soon as the second strike began the colonel came with a megaphone. He asked the heads of the different blocks to go out to speak with them, but we did not pay any attention to his request. We thought we had to go on hunger strike again; I am not convinced that it was the right thing to do; however, we had to show solidarity with our fellow prisoners in block 5.
I hope to come out of this one alive and ask you to tell my wife and my son that I love them very much indeed.
Your friend and client
Sami Muhyi al-Din al-Hajj
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