Is this who we are?

What do you feel about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay?

In 2001, thirty-year-old Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab was in Kabul, running a food import business.

When 9/11 brought war to Kabul, Dhiab, his wife and four children left Afghanistan for Pakistan, hoping for safety. He was picked up by the Pakistani police. They turned him over to the American military, probably for a bounty. He was not charged with any crime. Dhiab was transferred to the prison at Bagram Airbase in June 2002. Two months later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

American taxpayers pay $2.7 million per prisoner per year  to keep Guantanmo running. Of the 149 prisoners still there, 79 are cleared for release.

Photo Source: Global Issues

Dhiab was cleared for release in 2009.

Four years later, he joined other detainees in a hunger strike protesting their incarceration without charge.

Prisoners who are judged to be dangerously underweight are force-fed. If uncooperative, they are “forcibly extracted” from their cells, strapped down, a tube jammed down nose and throat. The procedure often causes choking and vomiting.

One U.S. Navy nurse at Guantanamo has refused to administer force-feedings, calling the practice a “criminal act.”

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees
A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Source: The Guardian

In 2013, Dhiab  filed a legal challenge to the force-feedings (Dhiab v. Obama).

This month, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a Department of Justice’s bid to hold Dhiab’s hearing in secret, and in a separate decision ruled that videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, be released to the public.

The Department of Justice has appealed.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the DOJ’s bid to seal Dhiab’s hearing. Image source: Legal Times blog

Dhiab, now 44 and confined to a wheelchair, waits. The Uruguayan government offered to resettle him and five other prisoners, but the transfer is mired in politics, both American and Uruguayan.

His wife, Umm Wa-el writes:

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantanamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantanamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

Excerpted fromThe Obama Administration Must Let the American People See Footage of My Husband Being Force-Fed in Their Name” 7/15/2014



In a May 23, 2013 speech, President Obama stated: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

President Obama’s legal team is debating now about whether a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” applies to U.S. military prisons overseas. In 2005 President Bush said it did not apply, that torture overseas in prisons or by the CIA was legal. As a senator Barack Obama supported legislation making it clear that cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners was not legal, anywhere. Since becoming President, however, he has never declared his position on the treaty ban.

What do you think? Have you been following Abu Wa’el’s case, or of any of the other Guanatamo prisoners? Seen any of the protests supporting the detainees?


  • Such a sad story. Most of us take our freedom for granted. We need to remember to be grateful for it each and every day. Stories like this remind us to do so.


  • Also, we need to hold politician’s feet to the fire. It feels like Guanatamo has dragged on because we let ourselves be distracted too easily, and let it drag on. Until Dhiab challenged the force feedings, the nurses were using olive oil as a lubricant for the feeding tubes. Pretty awful. And it seems ridiculous that people who have been cleared for release from prison five years ago, are still there.

    But I guess you’re right. Bottom line: much of what happens — even if we pay for it with our taxes — happens beyond our control. If we’re lucky enough to live in a place that is far away from wars, we do need to be grateful, each and every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I don’t understand. If 79 prisoners have been cleared for release, what’s been the holdup? I thought Guantanamo was supposed to be closed a while ago. Doesn’t the right hand know what the left hand is doing?


  • Politics. The “right” is suspicious that the “left” is going to unleash mad terrorists on the American public, or so claim conservative congress members and the Pentagon. The Uruguayan public, taking a cue from the American Tea Party, fear that the Americans are dumping mad terrorists on them. It’s all nonsense. You’re right. Guantanamo Bay should have been closed a long time ago, and not used as a political football.


  • Thank you, Julie, for writing this. We need to hear this again and again, until we say STOP.


    • Legal limbo. It’s one of the travesties of our time. All of the captives who have been cleared for release, should be released. We could pay each of them $2 million a year to do nothing, and be saving taxpayer’s money. And of course, it’s more than about saving money.


  • Hello jbw, returning your visit via Blogging201. I confess to being more than appalled, it all makes me very heart-weary. I concluded many moons ago that politics is a filthy business whatever the country, in the west we are simply more able to disguise what goes on with a painted veil of ‘civilisation’. Underneath I’m not sure we or our governments are any different. It’s good to remain aware and do one’s bit however small; thanks for writing this.


    • Yes. Underneath, we’re pretty much the same, even though the trappings are different. Hopefully in looking behind the headlines, or in your case, under the flowerpots, it’s easier remember we’re all made of the same stuff, and do better when we are conscientious and cooperative rather than defensive and afraid. Thanks for the visit.

      Liked by 1 person

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