Inside Guantánamo: An unprecedented rebellion leaves a notorious detention centre in crisis

Special Report: Lawyers and human rights groups say it is just a matter of time before the detainees start to die

Emaciated and frail, more than 100 men lie on concrete floors of freezing, solitary cells in Guantánamo, silently starving themselves to death.

Stripped of all possessions, even basics such as a sleeping mat or soap, they lie listlessly as guards periodically bang on the steel doors and shout at them to move an arm or leg to prove they are still conscious.

The notorious detention centre is in crisis, suffering a rebellion of unprecedented scale, with most of the camp on lockdown and around two-thirds of the 166 detainees on hunger strike.

This week 40 American military nurses were drafted in to try to stem a mass suicide. The last Brit inside, Shaker Aamer, has said he is prepared to strike to his death.

The US administration does its best to keep prying eyes from the unfolding tragedy but the The Independent has obtained first-hand reports.

Twice a day, the 23 most weak are taken into a room. Their wrists, arms, stomach, legs and head are strapped to a chair and repeated attempts are made to force a tube down their noses into their stomachs. It is an ugly procedure as they gag and wretch, blood dripping from their nostrils. “They won’t let us live in peace and now they won’t let us die in peace,” said detainee, Fayiz Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti held for 11 years without charge.

Four are so ill that they lie in shackles in the hospital wing and insiders predict it is only a matter of time before one perishes.

“It is possible that I may die in here,” said Mr Aamer, 44, through his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, recently. “I hope not, but if I do die, please tell my children that I loved them above all else, but that I had to stand up for the principle that they cannot just keep holding people without a trial, especially when they have been cleared for release,” said the father of four, who remains in Camp 5 despite being approved for release more than five years ago. “Sad to say, torture and abuse continue in Guantánamo Bay and the US is throwing away yet more of its dwindling moral authority,” added Mr Stafford Smith.

The protest, which began on 6 February, has now spread through Camp 6 and Camp 5 with an estimated 100 to 130 taking part. These are not the high value detainees kept in Camp 7, the handful charged with terror offences. The hunger strikers are those who have waited a decade or more without trial, including 86 cleared for release but remain trapped because of restrictions imposed by Congress.

As President Barack Obama pledged to press for Guantánamo’s closure this week, detainees described how it has gone back to the draconian regime of the Bush administration.

“Defence lawyers have tried to engage in constructive dialogue but we have been met with resistance and silence,” explained US Army Captain Jason Wright, a lawyer who described seeing his client Obaidullah, now a 115lb “bag of bones” , a few days ago as “extremely distressing”.

“I have pain in waist, dizziness. I cannot sleep well. I fell [sic] hopeless. I cannot exercise. My muscle become weaker in the last 50 days. I have thrown up five times,” wrote Obaidullah, a 32-year-old Afghan who has never been charged despite 11 years imprisonment.

“When I walked into the room he was demonstrably changed. He said, ‘They won’t treat us with dignity, they are treating us like dogs’. There is an urgency. It is clear that if this hunger strike continues there will be deaths. These men are going to die in this prison for nothing. It is an absolute outrage,” said Capt Wright.

“The hunger strike is a political protest. The fact that they are being treated in this manner is contrary to international law and un-American,” he added. The protest began on 6 February when, according to lawyers, the new administration decided to end “an era of permissiveness” and take a more punitive approach, in contravention with the Geneva Convention, which calls for preventative detention. Guards confiscated all “comfort items” but what inflamed inmates most was a search of their Korans, an act the administration denies.

Prisoners began writing SOS on the outside of their cells but the protest passed peacefully until 13 April when guards used rubber bullets to move inmates from communal cell blocks, where they had covered cameras, and some responded with “improvised weapons” such as broom handles.

First-hand reports this week reveal that most prisoners are now being held in solitary confinement in empty, windowless cells just 12ft by 8ft. Clean water is rationed, they say, and they have been stripped off all possessions.

They complain the air-conditioning has been turned up to an icy level, guards deliberately disturb prayer times and turn up throughout the night to take them for showers.

Describing sleeping on a concrete floor, using his shoes as a pillow, Moroccan Younous Chekkouri said via phone to his lawyers at the charity Reprieve: “Pain starts immediately when I’m on the floor. Pain in my neck, pain in my chest. Finally at night they gave us blankets. It was very cold. Water is now a privilege. They are treating us like animals,” he added. “I thought my torture had ended, but what is happening now is horrible.”

Amnesty was among several human rights organisations to describe the situation at the camp in Cuba as “at crisis point” this week while UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez condemned the continued detention as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.

Omar Deghayes, 43, a British  resident who was released without charge in 2007, recalled the effect of two shorter hunger strikes. Lying in a “fridge-like” cell, he said he could barely stand within four days and was consumed with hunger and pains.

“You start to hallucinate. When people talk to you, you can’t understand them. I started to hear voices. Then I started to vomit blood and puss. Your stomach contracts and when they force feed large quantities, you can’t control anything, you get diarrhoea on your trousers. They take you into the yard and hose you down.”

Most people cannot survive losing more than 40 per cent of their body weight. Once fat stores are depleted, the body begins to consume the muscles and vital organs for energy. A large number on the current hunger strike have lost around a third of their body weight. While some are keeping alive by using a vitamin and mineral drink, 23 are now being force-fed.

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Wingard, a lawyer who visited Mr Al-Kandari, this week, explained: “He said they strap you to a chair, tie up your wrists, your legs, your forehead and tightly around the waist. The tube makes his eyes water excessively and blood begins to trickle from the nose. Once the tube passes his throat the gag reflex kicks in. Warm liquid is poured into the body for 45 minutes to two hours. He feels like his body is going to convulse and often vomits.

“He is emaciated, down from 150lb to 100lb. He can’t walk. He finds is difficult to concentrate. He burps all the time as his stomach eats itself,” added the US Air Force officer, who described the treatment as “beyond hypocrisy”.

The Department of Defence said yesterday it used enteral feeding only when a detainee’s life was in danger. Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale added detainees had the highest standards of humane treatment.

“Detainees are not punished for hunger striking. However, we will not allow them to harm themselves,” he said, adding: “We will not allow them to commit suicide by starving themselves to death.”

Prisoners complain, however, that instead of leaving the tube in, they reinsert it twice a day. Dr Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, wrote to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel recently to complain that force feeding was in violation of medical ethics.

Capt Wright, who travelled on the same plane as the nurses, said this week: “I can’t imagine they understood what they are being asked to do for their country. I don’t think they knew how horrific it would be. I hope some of them have the courage to say no.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most