A letter from Guantanamo: ‘Nobody can truly understand how we suffer’

Moath al-Alwi describes the humiliating and brutal treatment he suffers at Guantanamo.

Dozens of Guantanamo prisoners who have not been tried still await release [EPA]

March 10, 2014 – I write this letter, as I wrote my last, between bouts of violent vomiting and sharp pains in my stomach caused by this morning’s force-feeding session. Reading news articles, you would think that we have stopped striking. Perhaps you might think that our protests had even been sated by government concessions. We may be trapped behind the walls of Guantanamo, but we will not be silenced.

I write this letter to tell you that we are still striking. We will not stop until we get our dignity back in this place and are allowed to return home to our families.

With President Barack Obama’s blessing, Colonel Bogdan, the warden at Guantanamo, has instituted humiliating groin searches, especially when we are taken for phone calls with our lawyers or families. He has withheld our medical treatment and confiscated our legal papers and Qurans.

The Colonel has been quoted as saying that he knows how to discipline us because he has children at home. We are not his children and this is certainly not our home. We are grown men with families who no longer know what we look like.

Here, a peaceful hunger strike automatically places the prisoner on “disciplinary status”, which involves being subjected to various forms of punishment. To discourage striking, the prisoner is moved from communal living to solitary confinement and is force-fed.

Because I decided to peacefully protest my imprisonment here, the special mattress and medical pillows prescribed for my chronic back pain, all of my underwear, my electric razor, and even my bar of soap and toothbrush have been confiscated.

Fault Lines – Life after Guantanamo

I, too, am strapped down and force-fed for over an hour every single day. During the session, I am constantly vomiting the feeding solution into my lap. As I am carried back to my cell, I cannot help but vomit on the guards carrying me.

They put a Plexiglas face mask on my head to protect their clothes from my vomit. They tighten the facemask and press down on it, pushing it into my face. I almost suffocate because I am vomiting inside the facemask and am unable to breathe.

As I struggle for air, the guards make fun of me, laughing loudly. Frequently, they lie me down on my stomach in my cell and press my back forcefully, squeezing out any remaining feeding solution from the previous force-feeding session. The lightest of the guards weighs at least 190 lbs, while I weigh only 98 lbs; it is a wonder they do not break me entirely.

Aside from those imprisoned with me, nobody can truly understand how we suffer. The Colonel will not allow media into Guantanamo Bay, claiming he is protecting our privacy. No man here wants privacy from the media. The Colonel fears that if the media comes in and meets with the prisoners, all of this daily brutality will be exposed. Hopefully this letter serves that end.

There are currently 21 prisoners on hunger strike. I am one of the 16 who are being force-fed. The government does not want the American people to know that we are still striking. They try to discourage us with solitary confinement and brutal treatment but we will not abandon our protest.

We will not be silent. They cannot hide us by refusing to report the number of protesters to the public. Refusing sustenance is the only peaceful voice of protest that we have; it is the only way to demand the attention of the US government and the American people to whom it is beholden.

Colonel Bogdan has explained our treatment by saying we are at war. But it has been 12 years and this is not a war. We are unarmed captives. I ask the American people, where is the freedom the US touts? Do you condone what your government is doing to us? I know that governments do not always represent the voices of their people, and I pray that the American people do not want this, and more, that they will do something to stop it.

Moath al-Alwi is a Yemeni national who has been in US custody since 2002. He was one of the very first prisoners moved to Guantanamo, where the US military assigned him Internment Serial Number 028.