Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Weighs 75 Pounds and is Near Death, Mounts Legal Push for Release

Tariq Ba Odah
Tariq Ba Odah

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who has been on hunger strike for over eight years, has launched a legal push for his immediate release from the United States military prison because he now weighs around 75 pounds and is near death.

Tariq Ba Odah is a Yemeni prisoner and resident of Saudi Arabia, who has been confined in “solitary conditions” at Guantanamo for 13 years despite the fact that President Barack Obama’s own review task force—comprised of officials from the top US security agencies—cleared Odah for release in 2009. His body can no longer endure the effects of nasal tube feedings.

A motion [PDF] filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on Odah’s behalf argues under the “laws of war,” particularly the Third Geneva Convention, the US has an “obligation to release seriously wounded and sick prisoners.” It is part of US Army regulation and “binding domestic law.”

Odah meets the “standards of ill health” that should compel his release because he is at 56 percent of his normal body weight. He is suffering from “severe malnutrition.” He often complains to his lawyer, Omar Farah, that he cannot focus or concentrate during their meetings. He is losing his memory and forgot the current year when he was writing a letter to family.

Dr. Mohammed Rami Bailony, who wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah’s motion for release, describes Odah’s “diminished weight” as a “shocking medical fact that alone indicates the presence of a crisis-level medical condition presaging organ failure, neurological damage and, inevitably, death.”

Odah does not “wish to die,” the motion for relief declares. “He wishes to be reunited with his family in Saudi Arabia or to be freed to any other safe country where he can begin to recover. At the same time, he feels compelled by the injustice he is enduring at Guantanamo to continue his hunger strike, the only peaceful way for him to protest with self-control and with dignity.”

The motion describes how Odah believes the US military has subject him to abuse so he abandons his hunger strike. He has suffered “violent cell-extractions, force-feeding sessions that leave him wet with his own vomit, and unremitting confinement in solitary conditions in Guantánamo’s Camp 5, where now he says he does not see anyone and he does not see the sun.”

Dr. Sandra S. Crosby, the director and co-founder of the immigration and refugee health program at the Boston Medical Center, also wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah that highlights how Odah does not trust the medical staff. The mistrust only compounds the risk that he will die soon.

“Mr. Ba Odah believes—not unreasonably in my opinion—that physicians at Guantanamo have been utilized as instruments of the guard force to coerce prisoners to ‘break the strike,’” Crosby suggests. “When this loss of trust occurs, patients will often not accept appropriate medical recommendations.”

Crosby concludes Odah is at risk of “serious organ damage and/or death.” Odah’s injuries “may be permanent.”

Even if the government claims it could rehabilitate Odah with medical treatment, the motion argues that the circumstances of his detention will likely prevent him from ever recovering.

“Apparently unmoved by his crisis-level weight, the government steadfastly confines Mr. Ba Odah to Guantanamo’s Camp 5, the non-communal housing facility renowned for its punitive, isolative conditions,” the motion declares. “This is exactly the opposite of what Mr. Ba Odah needs. Solitary confinement compromises an individual’s mental and physical health and risks bringing about ‘multiple chronic medical illnesses, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and permanent neuropsychological damage.’ Moreover, solitary conditions are ‘a strong exacerbating factor to his already precarious condition.'”

Odah’s attorney visited Tariq on April 21, and he was “nearly unrecognizable” to him.

Farah shared, “He is now enduring more suffering at Guantánamo than he has ever known. 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.”

It should not matter that there is war ongoing in Yemen that prevents him from being returned to the country where he was born. His family emigrated to Saudi Arabia when Odah was an infant. The government can pursue his transfer to Saudi Arabia. Plus, the government has recently transferred Yemeni prisoners to other countries and shown nationality does not have to be a barrier to release.

The US military’s treatment of Odah clearly amounts to torture, and it is unconscionable that he—as well as many others—remain in detention at Guantanamo.

Image from the Center for Constitutional Rights. Not a recent photo.