On Friday, September 6, 2013 dozens witnessed in front of the White House, a live force-feed of 52-year-old Andres Conterison his 61st day of a water-only hunger strike. Thousands more would watch from home via live stream, RT and Huffington Post. Conteris began a hunger strike on July 8, 2013 in solidarity with Guantánamo Bay and the California prison, Pelican Bay. Among the dozens of witnesses was a crowd of international press covering the event. American press was absent with the exception of Ryan J. Reilly, a justice reporter for The Huffington Post who earlier this spring, traveled to Guantánamo.
I had been working with Conteris on a new web site called CloseGitmo.net. In my first online conversation with Conteris on July 3rd, 2013, he tells me he’s going on a hunger strike:
(11:12:42 PM) Andres Thomas Conteris: starting July 8
(11:12:49 PM) Andres Thomas Conteris: water-only
(11:13:36 PM) Andres Thomas Conteris: will go several months… and when i cant go any longer.. then the only way to surviive will be “enteral feeding”
(11:13:48 PM) Palina Prasasouk: whaat
After this conversation, I had met Conteris twice and had no idea what I was in for when I agreed to help him or that the “enteral feeding” was to take place in front of the White House.
The demonstration began with a vigil lead by Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Art Laffin. The Dorothy Day house has been holding vigils in front of the White House every Friday since 1998, with a focus on Guantánamosince the hunger strike began there six months ago. After the vigil concluded Medea Benjamin introduced speakers such as Colonel Morris Davis, former Chief Prosecutor of the Guantánamomilitary commissions.
Just days before the demonstration while getting a haircut, Conteris met Murphy Bey Jr., a barber and former prisoner at Pelican Bay. Conteris was wheeled to the front where he would undergo 10 minutes of “agony” and “torture”.
“It feels like endless agony. Any motion is painful, it feels like I’m drowning,” said Conteris under his breath during the force-feed. Similar words used by Samir Moqbel, a Guantanamo Bay hunger striker, in his Op-Ed to the NYTimes “Gitmo Is Killing Me”
There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before.
On July 8th, 2013, on the same day that Conteris and Pelican Bay started their hunger strikes, the human rights group Reprieve launched their campaign Stand for Justice by releasing a video of Mos Def being force-fed. Some viewers believed he was exaggerating since Mos Def is a well-known actor.
I would not be surprised if people start accusing Conteris of seeking fame. I saw fear in eyes, agony, and then he went to a place where we take ourselves when we are in tremendous pain. It’s where we sit still waiting for it to be over.
A day after the procedure Conteris tells me that he is ready to do it again. He did not feel any more strength and nutrition from the can ofEnsure that was pumped into his stomach. He stated that there was still some residue from the NG tube being in his throat.
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The very visceral reality of this torment makes it impossible to imagine that I would repeat this … and yet, I am tormented even more knowing that U.S. taxpayers are paying for this torture to happen twice daily. The victims are already those who have lived the torture of indefinite detention and long-term solitary confinement, not to mention knowing that 84 of them are cleared to be released and they linger in limbo for years, yet another form of psychological abuse.
And so I ask myself, how could I end the fast knowing now … in my blood and in my bones and in my breath … that they endure this acute and sadistic treatment not just daily … but twice-daily?
A friend of his writes, “I am concerned that your intention to continue fasting may not be the best one at this time. May I suggest that you gather together a clearness committee to help you navigate forward rather than drift.”
I too am extremely concerned for the future of his health, however headlines of the Guantánamo Bay hunger strike have diminished, and I fear the remaining 164 will be forgotten once again. In President Obama’s second promise to close the prison, nearly four months ago, he stated that he would appoint an envoy at the Pentagon to work with a counterpart at the state department on Guantánamo transfers. According to, Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokes person, “The department has nothing yet to announce on this issue.”
On September 6th, 2013, the same day as the live force-feed, two Algerians, Nabil Hadjarab and Motai Sayyab were released from judicial interrogation and returned home on probation. This comes in time for the one year anniversary of the death of Adnan Latif, found unresponsive in this cell on September 8th, 2012. As of September 8th, 2013, 22 detainees enter 215 days of hunger strike with 20 being force-fed. If the Obama administration continues releasing two detainees every six months, forty-one years would have passed and so will a majority of the detainees.
Left: Andres Conteris, August 8th, 2013 Right: September 6th, 2013 water-only fast 61 days, 52 lbs lost (25% of body mass)