Al-Hajj’s Guantanamo cartoon banned

Al Jazeera cameraman drew sketches depicting his treatment by US military.

Reprieve reproduced Scream for Freedom from a description provided by al-Hajj

The US army has banned the publication of four cartoons drawn by Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman held in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, according to his lawyer.

The pieces, called Sketches of My Nightmare, include a drawing depicting al-Hajj, who has been on hunger strike for eight months, as a skeleton being force fed by US guards.

The drawings were submitted to the military censor but they would not permit their release.

However, detailed descriptions of the sketches were allowed through the censorship process and Lewis Peake, a political cartoonist, was able to recreate one entitled Scream for Freedom.

Al Hajj described the way he sees himself being force fed in the  so-called “Torture Chair” – the restraint chair into which they are strapped twice a day to have a 110cm tube forcibly inserted into one nostril so that liquid food can be administered.

The tube is pulled out after each feeding and the prisoner is left in the chair for up to two hours so he can be force fed again if he vomits.

‘Torture chair’

“The first sketch is just a skeleton in the torture chair,” he explained. 

“My picture reflects my nightmares of what I must look like, with my head double-strapped down, a tube in my nose, a black mask over my mouth, with no eyes and only giant cheekbones, my teeth jutting out – my bones showing in every detail, every rib, every joint.

Sami al-Hajj was seized as covered
the Afghan war for Al Jazeera

“The tube goes up to a bag at the top of the drawing. On the right there is another skeleton sitting shackled to another chair.

“They are sitting like we do in interrogations, with hands shackled, feet shackled to the floor, just waiting. In between I draw the flag of Guantanamo – JTF-GTMO – but instead of the normal insignia, there is a skull and crossbones, the real symbol of what is happening here,” he said.

Cori Crider, one of the Al Jazeera cameraman’s lawyers, said that he first showed her the “very gruesome and incredibly detailed sketches” when she visited him on February 1.

“He explained he felt compelled to express the nightmare that he and the rest of the hunger strikers in Guantánamo have been suffering. Sami’s sketches spoke volumes about what he goes through every time they strap him into that chair for forcefeeding,” Crider said.

Free speech

The cartoonist is also reproducing the other three sketches which show other aspects of the prisoners’ treatment in US custody, Reprieve, a British charity which provides legal representation to Guantanamo detainees, said.

“You have to question, I have to question as an American, why the US government thinks that free speech in the form of this picture is a somehow a threat to US national security,” Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, said.

He suggested that the US military was censoring the images to keep details of the treatment of Guantanamo detainees out of the media.

“I have seen plenty of evidence that is extremely embarrassing to the American government, and that’s because this sort of picture gives you a visual image of what poor Sami goes through twice a day.

“I think a picture sometimes paints a thousand words, and I think that is what the US government is afraid of,” he told Al Jazeera.

Al-Hajj was seized by the US military while he was covering the war in Afghanistan for Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel and has been held as an “enemy combatant” without trial or charge since 2001.

Source: Al Jazeera


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