Sunday, March 23, 2008

United States censors Guantanamo prisoner's sketch of force-feeding

United States censors Guantanamo prisoner's sketch of force-feeding

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The United States has censored a gruesome drawing by a Guantanamo Bay detainee depicting him as a skeleton being force-fed at the military prison, the man's lawyers said Monday as they released a recreation of the sketch.

The detainee, Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameramen for the Al-Jazeera TV network, marked his 431st day on hunger strike Monday at Guantanamo, the U.S. base in Cuba where some 275 men suspected of terrorism or links with al-Qaida or the Taliban are being held.

"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, with no eyes and only giant cheekbones," al-Haj said in a statement released by the British legal rights group Reprieve.

The lawyers said they commissioned a political cartoonist, Lewis Peake, to recreate four of al-Haj's drawings, based on descriptions of the censored originals, to reveal "aspects of the prisoners' suffering in U.S. custody."

U.S. navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a spokesman for the prison camp, denied detainees are mistreated and said al-Qaida trains its operatives to allege inhumane treatment.

"We continue to treat all detainees safely and humanely," Haupt said.

Seven detainees remained on hunger strike Monday to protest against conditions and their indefinite confinement at Guantanamo. All were being fed liquid nutrients through a tube inserted into their nostril.

Clive Stafford Smith, one of al Haj's lawyers, said the censorship of the drawings was motivated by public-relations concerns.

"The motivation is not national security but trying to avoid embarrassment for the illegal acts of the military," Stafford Smith said.

Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the drawings were censored because they were beyond the scope of material, such as legal documents or discussion of evidence, that is allowed.

"The documents in question did not meet those parameters," Gordon said.

Titled "Scream for Freedom," the drawing released Monday depicts a skeleton strapped into a "restraint chair," which the military uses when force-feeding detainees. A second detainee is strapped into another chair. Between them, the insignia of the Joint Task Force-Guantanamo has been altered to show a skull and crossbones in lieu of a star and outline of Cuba. Al-Haj said detainees call the chairs "torture chairs."

Lawyer Cori Crider said al-Haj showed her the four sketches Feb. 1. She said she suspected the military might prevent their release, so she also submitted for review al-Haj's detailed descriptions of the drawings, which the military did not censor, allowing the images to be recreated. Recreations of three other sketches will be released in coming days.

Al-Haj was captured by Pakistani authorities on the Afghan border and turned over to the United States. He is believed to be the only journalist from a major international news organization held at Guantanamo. Authorities accused him of transporting money in the 1990s for a charity that allegedly funded military groups.

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