Force-fed Guantanamo Bay prisoner's life at risk

2014-08-06 12:12

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San Juan - A Guantanamo Bay prisoner from Syria cleared for release in 2009 has seen his health deteriorate amid a hunger strike and needs urgent, independent medical examination, his attorney said Tuesday.

Abu Wa'el Dhiab, aged 43, has been on a hunger strike since February 2013, with only a brief interruption earlier this year when he thought he was going home, said Cori Crider, a lawyer who is a director for the British legal rights group Reprieve.

Crider has filed a request seeking an independent medical evaluation for Dhiab and said she expects a judge to respond this week.

"He is just withering as a human being," Crider said in a phone interview from London, adding that she became concerned after meeting with him last week. "He was a skeleton. ... He's just lying flat on the ground because he doesn't have the strength."

The US military has said it uses humane methods to keep hunger-striking prisoners alive, but a federal judge recently ordered officials to review Dhiab's case after he complained.

Navy Captain Tom Gresback, spokesperson for Guantanamo, said the military cannot comment on the medical condition or treatment of any detainee.

But, he added, "The US military is committed to the safe, humane, legal and transparent care of all detainees at the detention camps Guantanamo Bay. I can say with 100% confidence all detainees receive the medical care at the equivalent level of any military service member serving here."

Dhiab is one of six prisoners whom the US government has agreed to resettle in the South American country of Uruguay. It is unclear when exactly the transfer would take place.

Dhiab also is seeking an end to force-feedings and is awaiting a ruling in that case, Crider said. A judge previously issued a temporary order prohibiting the procedure, finding that Dhiab was being fed in a way that caused "unnecessary suffering", but the order was later lifted to protect him from starvation.

Crider said officials have denied Dhiab the use of a wheelchair except for appointments, and said he is often led forcefully to feedings. She said he sometimes remains in his cell and drinks a supplement that officials normally feed through his nose as part of force-feedings that occur twice daily.

"The way they're dealing with hunger strikers is totally unacceptable," she said.

Hunger strikes at Guantanamo began shortly after the prison opened in 2002, with force-feeding starting in early 2006 after a mass hunger strike.

A new strike began in February 2013, with more than 100 of 154 prisoners participating at one point. There are currently 149 prisoners at the detention centre, and Crider has said the legal team believes roughly 34 are on hunger strike and some 18 meet the guidelines for feedings.

The US military has declined to reveal the number of hunger strikers since December.

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