Reduced to Just 75 lbs, DOJ says Gitmo Hunger Striker "Not Sick" Enough for Hospitalization

The U.S. Department of Justice has argued to a federal judge that a hunger-striking Guantánamo inmate who weighs just 74 pounds “is not sick enough” to be hospitalized and that his petition for release must be rejected because, if granted, it could encourage other detainees to also starve themselves to near death in protest of their endless detention at the offshore prison.

According to new reporting by the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg, citing a recently unsealed court filing, the DOJ argued that Tariq Ba Odah, who has been held at the U.S. Navy-run prison for over 13 years without charge or trial, should be held longer even as his weight has dropped from 135 pounds, when he first started his strike in 2007, to approximately 74 pounds as of July 15 — just 56 percent of his ideal body weight.

Ba Odah is among those who have been force-fed as a result of their multi-year hunger strike. Doctors and human rights experts have called the force-feeding process a form of torture.

In June, Rosenberg reports, Ba Odah’s lawyers wrote to a fedeal judge that their client “teeters on the precipice of death — his body struggling, but ultimately failing, to properly absorb the liquid nutrients he is being force fed.”

The DOJ, however, countered by saying the man was solely responsible for his condition, brought about by his voluntary refusal to eat. The government cast his “underlying medical condition” as “self-inflicted” and said his “current possible consequences are all due to his seven-year hunger strike.” 

Citing the court filing, Rosenberg continued:


At the time the DOJ’s filing was submitted, the Center for Constitutional Right’s Omar Farah, who represents Ba Odah, slammed the government for its continued mistreatment of his client and the overall secrecy surrounding the treatment of those on hunger strike.

The government’s action in the case, said Farah in a statement, “is a transparent attempt to hide the fact that the Obama administration’s interagency process for closing Guantánamo is an incoherent mess, and it is plainly intended to conceal the inconsistency between the administration’s stated intention to close Guantánamo and the steps taken to transfer cleared men.  The administration simply wants to avoid public criticism and accountability.”   

Calling the government’s secrecy surrounding the government’s petition against Ba Odah unnecessary, Farah continued by saying “there is nothing sensitive about this pivotal moment that needs to be withheld from the public.  Mr. Ba Odah’s grave medical condition is not in dispute.  Given that he has been cleared since 2009, there is no dispute about whether he should be approved for transfer.  All the president has to decide is whether to exercise his discretion not to contest the motion and release Mr. Ba Odah so that he does not die.”

Reporting on the case of Ba Odah earlier this month, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain discussed some of the deeper dynamics that have left the 30-year-old Yemeni national under lock and key despite never being convicted of a crime and the fact that he is now among more than fifty other detainees who have received approval to be release to a foreign country:

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