Release Sought for 75-Lb. Gitmo Hunger-Striker

     (CN) – A Yemeni Guantanamo detainee held without charge for 13 years must be repatriated because his weight dropped dangerously low on his long-term hunger strike, his lawyers told a federal judge in Washington.
     Captured in 2002 by Pakistani army officials while crossing the border to Afghanistan, Tariq Ba Odah became one of the first captives rendered to the U.S. military base in Cuba, his leaked detainee profile says.
     While the Pentagon identifies Ba Odah as a “possible member of al-Qaida,” the military has never charged him with a crime.
     Cleared for release eight years into his captivity, Ba Odah has protested his continued detention with a hunger strike that has stretched well into its eighth year.
     He says that Pakistan sold him for a bounty to the United States.
     On Thursday, attorney Omar Farah with the Center for Constitutional Rights told the U.S. District Court in D.C. that his client’s “crisis-level physical and psychological condition” demands his release from Guantanamo.
     “According to the government, Mr. Ba Odah weighs 74.5 pounds – merely 56% of his ideal body weight,” Farah’s 28-page legal brief states.
     During their last April 21 visitation, the attorney found his client was “nearly unrecognizable,” Farah said in a statement.
     “All the bones in his midsection are visible through his skin, his jawline and teeth protrude, and he says he is losing sensation in his hands and feet and his memory is fading,” Farah added. “Despite having been cleared for release more than five years ago and despite his shocking condition, he is still being held in solitary confinement in Guantánamo’s Camp 5 facing irreversible harm and possibly death.”
     The military has been keeping Ba Odah alive through its controversial force-feeding policies.
     “Each day, the military force-feeds him a commercial liquid supplement,” the brief states. “The process involves military and medical staff strapping him to a restraint chair and inserting a tube up his nose to drain liquid supplement into his stomach. He says the daily tube-feedings are humiliating. He calls it torture.”
     D.C. federal judges have generally deferred to the Pentagon’s view that the force-feedings are necessary to keep hunger-striking detainees from starving to death.
     The Army’s regulations call for the repatriation of captives whose “conditions have become chronic to the extent that prognosis appears to preclude recovery in spite of treatment within 1 year from inception of disease or date of injury.”
     Farah claims these standards a “meaningless” if they do not cover his client.
     “Though medical opinion scarcely seems necessary, three independent medical experts conclude – primarily on the basis of Mr. Ba Odah’s shockingly low weight – that he is gravely malnourished and in danger of catastrophic physical and neurological impairment and even death,” his brief states. “In their clinical opinion, that outcome could occur slowly, within a period of months through continued progressive degeneration, or suddenly with the onset of common injury or infection that could overwhelm his body’s diminished capacity.”
     University of California professor Jess Ghannam, Enara Health Group medical director Mohammed Rami Bailony and Sondra Crosby, the co-founder of Boston Medical Center’s immigration and refugee health program, each submitted opinions separately with the court.
     Each of the experts associate Ba Odah’s health status as associated with “late-stage hospice, cancer and AIDS patients,” Farah says.
     Ba Odah’s roots in Yemen pose another difficulty for the detainee because of restrictions passed by Congress barring detainee transfers to that politically unstable and war-torn country.
     Though only 18 Yemeni men have been released from Guantanamo over the past four years, Ba Odah also has family in Saudi Arabia, a country with a rehabilitation program for Islamic militants recently reported to include art therapy, saunas and an Olympic-size pool.
     The lawyer says his client seeks peace and will drop his hunger-strike if sent to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere for rehabilitation.
     “There is nothing else I want,” Ba Odah said, as told through his lawyer. “There is nothing better that I care about.”
     A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment by press time.

%d bloggers like this: