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Tariq Ba Odah was born in 1978 in the Shabwah district of Yemen where he lived until the age of one. He spent his adolescence and early adulthood in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia surrounded by his loving parents and many brothers and sisters. According to Mr. Ba Odah, his father’s priority was to ensure a happy and peaceful living for the family by providing for them and enabling them to receive an education in the local schools and his mother “was always a symbol of love and giving.” His childhood within a tight-knit family is his most treasured memory because it is the only part of his youth that he was able to live freely. “We lived a wonderful life, full of happiness and respect,” Mr. Ba Odah remembers when thinking about his life before Guantánamo, “but all this changed since my capture.”
Like a number of other men detained at Guantánamo, Mr. Ba Odah was captured in Pakistan by local authorities and sold to the United States for bounty. He reports that, to this day, no one has explained to him the justification for his initial arrest. In early February 2002, Mr. Ba Odah was sent to Guantánamo, when he was only 23 years old. Those early years of his imprisonment were marked by what Mr. Ba Odah describes as psychological and physical torture.
Mr. Ba Odah’s Hunger Strike
Mr. Ba Odah began hunger striking not long after he arrived in Guantánamo to protest his indefinite detention. He reports that through the years the crackdown and retaliation from the Guantánamo guard staff was so brutal that he was unable to maintain his strike. Periodically he would be forced to give it up before resuming it again. In 2007, however, he resolved to begin what has become one of the longest running hunger strikes at Guantanamo. In February of that year, he began a hunger strike that continues to this day.
Mr. Ba Odah is force-fed daily. In April 2013, Mr. Ba Odah reported that he weighed approximately 90 pounds – the maximum amount he has weighed was 160 pounds; the minimum was 78 pounds. No independent medical expert has ever been allowed to assess the impact of extended hunger-striking on Mr. Ba Odah’s body, but there is no doubt that he is need of urgent, sophisticated medical care.
“A captive does not possess any realistic means to send his messages to the world other than to strike. . . Freedom should be much more precious for the human being than all the desires on earth. And we should never give it up regardless of how expensive the price may be.” - Tariq Ba Odah, April 2013, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
Guantánamo prison authorities have isolated Mr. Ba Odah from the other prisoners because they deem his 6-yr-long peaceful hunger strike as “non-compliance.” They have been holding him in solitary-confinement like conditions in Camp 5. Mr. Ba Odah is only permitted to be outside of his cell for 2-4 hours per day. Unfortunately, he is often too weak to take advantage of the recreation time that is allotted to him, so he instead practices walking in his small cell. He has virtually no human contact.
Yet despite all that he has suffered and continues to endure, Mr. Ba Odah’s spirit perseveres as does his commitment to continuing his peaceful protest. He awaits the day that he will be able to return to his family and begin rebuilding his life as a free man.
February 2002: Tariq Ba Odah arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.