Al-Hajj's health 'deteriorating'
Al Jazeera cameraman held at Guantanamo is "losing it" according to his lawyer.
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2007 07:10 GMT
Al-Hajj has been held at Guantanamo since June 2002 [EPA]

The health of Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman being held in Guantanamo Bay, has deteriorated sharply in recent months according to notes previously censored by the US authorities.

Al-Hajj has reportedly lost 18kg in weight since he began a hunger strike last year according to the notes from a meeting with his lawyer in July.

"He's just losing it," Clive Stafford Smith, his lawyer, said in a telephone interview. "He's definitely deteriorating physically and mentally from the hunger strike."

Al-Hajj,  originally from Sudan, has been held at Guantanamo since June 2002 and according to the notes he seemed anxious and "even paranoid," and had difficulty concentrating or speaking his previously fluent English during a meeting with Stafford Smith, the notes said.

Late delivery

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees must submit notes from meetings with prisoners to the US authorities for review to prevent the release of classified information.

That process typically takes several weeks and, although the meeting with al-Hajj was in early July, Stafford Smith said he received the notes only late last week and parts of his notes were barred from disclosure.

Through his lawyer, al-Hajj said that medical staff have begun using larger tubes to feed detainees on hunger strike and at times have inserted them incorrectly, reaching the lungs instead of the stomach, or have forgotten to use a lubricant.

The military denied both allegations.

"He's definitely deteriorating physically and mentally from the hunger strike"

Clive Stafford Smith, lawyer for Sami al-Hajj

Al-Hajj also complained hunger strikers are stripped of all their personal items except their clothes and have only a thin mat on which to sleep.

'Voluntary fast'

Military officials say hunger striking is considered a violation of camp rules and they confiscate "comfort items" such as extra clothing, a thicker mattress and access to library books as a consequence.

Rick Haupt, a spokesman for the Guantanamo Bay prison, denied that al-Hajj has lost 18kg and said the detainee is at 100 per cent of his ideal body weight and that no detainee on hunger strike is in immediate medical danger.

He said there were 22 detainees on hunger strike as of Tuesday, including 20 who are force-fed nutritional supplements through a nasal tube to prevent them from starving themselves.

Guantanamo detainees began a hunger strike in August 2005 to protest against their indefinite confinement.

Military officials have described the strike as a "voluntary fast" intended to draw international sympathy.

The US currently holds about 355 men at Guantanamo and officials said they plan to prosecute about 75 with military tribunals and hope to transfer more than 150 back to their home countries or other nations that will accept them.

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