Friday, 27th April 2012
Abdulhadi Al Khawaja with his daughter Maryam, who was my student in Postcolonial Literature at the University of Bahrain in 2008. Today’s GDN says that Abdulhadi “tried to” give up taking water. So who stopped him?
Where is Abdulhadi Al Khawaja? Evidence from today’s Gulf Daily News, the regime’s English language propaganda sheet suggests he’s being force-fed.
The world-renowned prisoner of conscience’s close family and lawyer have heard nothing from him since Monday afternoon, and have been unable to contact him at the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital, his last known whereabouts. International human rights activists have been similarly rebuffed.
Abdulhadi is hunger striking against a life sentence imposed upon him by what Amnesty International describe as a “sham” military tribunal relating to trumped-up charges of terrorism, and plotting to overthrown the Bahrain regime.
To the civilized world he is a prisoner of conscience. The US State Department, whose position on Bahrain is showing growing impatience with the Al Khalifa regime, specifically urged the Bahrain authorities to “consider all available options” in the Al Khawaja case in a press statement on the Bhrain crisis published on 25th April:
Specifically, we urge the government to consider urgently all available options to resolve the case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. We also renew our call for the government, opposition parties, and all segments of Bahraini society to engage in a genuine dialogue leading to meaningful reforms that address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.
“Where is Al Khawaja, killers?!”
Today should be the 79th day of Al Khawaja’s hunger strike. By way of comparison, the 1981 IRA hunger strikers, including the Sinn Fein MP Bobby Sands, died after 59 to 73 days.
Indian environmental activist Swami Nigamanand died on 13th June 2011 after 115 days on hunger strike, although this is an unusually long time to survive under hunger strike conditions (Nigamanand was a sadhu, a Hindu holy man, trained in yogic techniques of extreme fasting):
So where is Abdulhadi Al Khawaja? Three possibilities spring to mind:
- He has died
- He has become comatose
- He is being force-fed
Evidence that Abdulhadi is being force-fed comes from an article entitled “Activist in high spirits”, which appeared in today’s Gulf Daily News:
Its nice to see the GDN acknowledge that Abdulhadi is an “activist” rather than a “terrorist”. A journalist with an investigative backbone might be interested in why a mere “activist” has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Not so GDN’s Alicia de Haldevang. According to Ms de Haldevang, he is only “allegedly” on hunger strike, having, she says “been drinking a nutritional supplement for the past two days and has been receiving fluids intravenously throughout his protest”, according to “well-placed sources”.
Of the record, de Haldevang elaborates on this, stating that her source (she only mentions one) is a member of Abdulhadi’s medical team who she “trusts”. She does not give a name.
Reiterating the discredited charges against Abdulhadi, she makes no mention of his international status as a prisoner of conscience. Instead, she continues:
“…his lawyer at one point claiming he might have died and his family this week alleging he had disappeared from the BDF Hospital where he is being held….”
Despite de Haldevang’s protestations to the contrary, nobody employed to write for the GDN would have the freedom to express a private opinion on such a weighty matter as Abdulhadi’s hunger strike. De Haldevang’s role is to send out the messages that the regime wants her to send out, in this case to quash any “rumours” that Abdulhadi may have died.
De Haldevang takes a strong interest in Abdulhadi’s nutrition, mentioning by name “Ensure”, the nutritional drink that Abdulhadi is supposed to be “taking”:
At the beginning of her piece, she says that he is “drinking” the supplement, but in paragraph five he is “taking” it. “Taking” it in what sense? Perhaps this image of the force feeding kit used against Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers can help answer the question of exactly how Abdulhadi is “taking” Ensure. Below is a photograph of a force feeding kit used at Guantanamo Bay:
This image is from the US Department of Defence:
Note the cans of “Ensure”, the very “nutritional drink” that de Haldevang mentions in her GDN article.
The force feeding kit is supplied by Corpak Medical Systems:
Medical ethicists in the USA were vociferous in their condemnation of force feeding in Guantanamo:
Current [Department of Defence] instructions on force-feeding directly contradict the explicit ethical positions of both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Medical Association (WMA).
Eventually, force feeding was abandoned at Guantanamo. It had only been possible there because of Gitmo’s ambiguous legal status as a US off-shore military site where the military ruled the roost yet the laws and norms of the judicial system of the USA and international law were deemed not to apply.
It was a shame on the USA it set up and allowed Guantanamo, but the “terror crisis” mentality that enabled the Gitmo concentration camp also allowed Arab world juntas like the Bahrain regime to rehabilitate their use of torture.
At the end of the day, the Guantanamo hunger strikers were only demanding that those imprisoned there would be treated properly under the Geneva Conventions on the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war:
“Laa tansaa”, “Do not forget”:
Going back to Bahrain, I note that in Arabic the verb “drinking” can also be used for “smoking” tobacco in a pipe, one “drinks” a shisha. I am curious as to the verb that would appear if a US force feeding, which involves a different sort of pipe, manual were translated into Arabic. Is suspect this language has found its way into de Haldevang’s article, her “source” being probably information she was supplied by the Bahrain government.
My point here is that, in the warped, denial-focused mindset of the regime’s torturers, they could “honestly” say that Abdulhadi was, with reference to Arabic, “drinking” this Ensure shit when in fact he was being force-fed it. When they go to meet their maker they rely on the forlorn hope that God is the same sort of pedantic hair-splitter that they are.
A shisha pipe, from which one “drinks”. Spot the resemblance to the force feeding kit.
Most tellingly, de Haldevang adds “…nurses did say he tried to stop taking water two days ago….”
“Tried to”? This is the clincher, IF HE “TRIED” TO STOP TAKING FLUIDS, THEN OBVIOUSLY SOMEONE HAS STOPPED HIM FROM DOING SO!
Abdulhadi’s family confirm he refused to take water around the time of the Formula 1 blood-race. Nobody can survive more than four days without water. Is this what prompted the regime to force feed Abdulhadi? Is this why Abdulhadi is being held incommunicado?
Or did he fall into a coma and the regime’s panic reaction was to force feed him while they tried to bring him round? Even moderate Al Khalifa sources genuinely don’t seem to know where he is.
De Haldevang continues:
“…a Bahraini official told the GDN that Mr Al Khawaja’s case was already subject to due process – pointing to the fact that an appeal against his conviction was currently underway in the Cassation Court…A verdict in the appeal, which has been lodged on behalf of all 21 defendants, is expected to be delivered at a hearing on Monday.”
I’ll pass the opportunity to comment on the idea that “due process” exists in Bahrain today. Suffice to say a real journalist would have brought that up. But then a real journalist wouldn’t be working for the GDN.
So what is the regime’s game-plan? I suggest it is to keep Abdulhadi alive over the weekend by force feeding him incommunicado so that the world won’t know that’s going on, in the hope that moderates in the regime can convince hardliners to tell the puppet Cassation Court to strip Abdulhadi of his Bahraini citizenship and deport him to Denmark?
The World Medical Association made its Declaration of Malta in 1991. This was revised in 1992 and 2006. The Declaration states:
Physicians should respect individuals’ autonomy. This can involve difficult assessments as hunger strikers’ true wishes may not be as clear as they appear. Any decisions lack moral force if made involuntarily by use of threats, peer pressure or coercion. Hunger strikers should not be forcibly given treatment they refuse. Forced feeding contrary to an informed and voluntary refusal is unjustifiable.
‘Benefit’ and ‘harm’. Physicians must exercise their skills and knowledge to benefit those they treat. This is the concept of ‘beneficence’, which is complemented by that of ‘non-maleficence’ or primum non nocere. These two concepts need to be in balance. ‘Benefit’ includes respecting individuals’ wishes as well as promoting their welfare. Avoiding ‘harm’ means not only minimising damage to health but also not forcing treatment upon competent people nor coercing them to stop fasting.
Physicians attending hunger strikers can experience a conflict between their loyalty to the employing authority (such as prison management) and their loyalty to patients. Physicians with dual loyalties are bound by the same ethical principles as other physicians, that is to say that their primary obligation is to the individual patient…Physicians must remain objective in their assessments and not allow third parties to influence their medical judgement. They must not allow themselves to be pressured to breach ethical principles, such as intervening medically for non-clinical reasons.
Therefore any physicians involved in the force feeding of Abdulhadi are in clear breach of international medical ethics. Furthermore, de Haldevang’s unnamed “source”, if this source really is a medical professional, is in breach of a further aspect of medical ethics, patient confidentiality:
The duty of confidentiality is important in building trust but it is not absolute. It can be overridden if non-disclosure seriously harms others. As with other patients, hunger strikers’ confidentiality should be respected unless they agree to disclosure or unless information sharing is necessary to prevent serious harm. If individuals agree, their relatives and legal advisers should be kept informed of the situation.
De Haldevang’s article provides strong evidence that Abdulhadi is being force fed, yet this is no thanks to her journalistic skills. Rather, evidence emerges only through a forensic taking apart of the words what she wrote, perhaps unaware of their import.
This is a story about a man who (according to the BICI) was seized from his home, beaten within an inch of his life, systematically tortured, sentenced to life imprisonment on spurious charges, and has been on hunger strike for 79 days is described in this propaganda sheet as being “in good spirits”.
To show it is serious about reform, the Bahrain regime should quash the trumped-up charges and release Abdulhadi unconditionally, compensating him and his family for the torture he has received.
The supine UK government must follow the lead of the US State Department in calling for humane action in Abdulhadi’s case.
A mural in Northern Ireland commemorating hunger striker Bobby Sands, MP. According to official British records from 1981, Sands died of “self-starvation.” In fact, the 1981 Hunger Strike gave a huge boost to the morale of the Nationalist movement in Northern Ireland at that time. No doubt the Khalifa regime would stop at nothing to prevent something similar happening in Bahrain, even force feeding.