March 27, 2008   By:    "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques", Detainee, Guantanamo, Hunger Strike, Military Tribunal, Torture   Comments are off   //   301 Views

Reprieve is releasing the third in a series of protest pieces called Sketches of My Nightmare, inspired by the suffering of Sami al Haj. Mr. al Haj is an al-Jazeera journalist picked up covering the Afghan war and sent to Guantánamo Bay. He has been on hunger strike in Guantánamo since January 7, 2007.

Sami al Haj drew a series of powerful, graphic sketches that illustrate the suffering in Guantánamo Bay, particularly the abusive treatment of those on hunger strike. The drawings were submitted to the US military censors, and were barred from public release. However, Reprieve also submitted Mr. al Haj’s detailed descriptions of his sketches, which were permitted through the censorship process.

Based on these descriptions, political cartoonist Lewis Peake has now completed the third in a series of Sketches titled: “HONOR BOUND TO DEFEND FREEDOM.” Unlike the first two pictures, this one is in full colour, and it shows Mr. al-Haj’s take on the familiar JTF-GTMO sign outside the prison.

“This time, the hooded skeleton is in a three-piece suit,” Mr. al Haj explained. “The head is totally blacked out. The wrists are shackled at the back, with chains running down the legs. There are very elaborate arm bones, leg bones and the spine. And again the flag, the Jolly Roger of JTF-GTMO with a diabolical smile on the skull. The title is, naturally, ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’, and it’s signed by me.”

Today (March 26, 2008) is the 440th day of Sami al Haj’s hunger strike, where his only demand is liberty or an open and fair trial.

“The phrase ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’ is one of the Orwellian aspects of Guantánamo,” said Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve. “For most of the world, Guantánamo epitomizes the suppression of freedom, as illustrated by the situation of Sami al-Haj, who has been held without charge or trial for over six years, and then daily abused with a tube up his nose for force-feeding when he attempts to assert his right to embark on a peaceful hunger strike.”

“If the Administration wants to talk about ‘honor’ and ‘freedom’, it should either give Mr. al Haj a fair trial, or release him,” Mr. Stafford Smith added.

Backstory: Notes on Sami al Haj’s First and Second Sketches

The sketches are based on drawings done by Mr. al Haj earlier this year, depicting his ongoing hunger strike in Guantánamo. Cori Crider, a lawyer with Reprieve, explained: “When I saw Sami on February 1, he showed me four very gruesome and incredibly detailed sketches. He explained he felt compelled to express the nightmare that he, and the rest of the hungerstrikers in Guantánamo, have been suffering. Sami’s sketches spoke volumes about what he goes through every time they strap him into that chair for forcefeeding. But I knew that they might be censored, so I had him describe what he was trying to say in his own words as well.”

As predicted, Mr. al Haj’s drawings were censored, although a memo describing them was unclassified. Lewis Peake’s drawings try to reflect Mr. al Haj’s design as honestly as possible.

“This is typical of the senseless censorship used by the authorities at Guantánamo, where the motivation is not national security but trying to avoid embarrassment for the illegal acts of the military,” said Clive Stafford Smith. “The Bush Administration can suppress Sami’s sketch, but they can’t stop another artist from replicating it. Ultimately, Sami’s spirit is irrepressible. Like Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, the world will hear him, because he seeks only justice.”

“The first sketch is just a skeleton in the torture chair,” Mr. al Haj explained. “My picture reflects my nightmares of what I must look like, with my head double- strapped down, a tube in my nose, a black mask over my mouth, strapped into the torture chair with no eyes and only giant cheekbones, my teeth jutting out – my ribs showing in every detail, every rib, every joint. The tube goes up to a bag at the top of the drawing. On the right there is another skeleton sitting shackled to another chair. They are sitting like we do in interrogations, with hands shackled, feet shackled to the floor, just waiting. In between I draw the flag of Guantanamo – JTF-GTMO – but instead of the normal insignia, there is a skull and crossbones, the real symbol of what is happening here.”

“There is a second sketch, which is about the Hospital,” explained Mr. al Haj. “Again it is a skeleton, but with a face this time. The top of the skull is dotted with tracks, tracks of pain. This is the hospital gurney prisoner. He sits completely still, his hands and feet shackled to the side of the bed.”

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