At a Glance
In September 2017, CCR requested an independent medical evaluation of Al Hajj, and the motion is pending. In January 2018, CCR and co-counsel filed a collective habeas motion on behalf of Al Hajj and 10 other detainees, arguing that their detention violates the Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force. On October 26, 2018, CCR filed a motion requesting the court schedule a status conference to update the court on new concerns concerning Al Hajj's health.
Sharqawi Al Hajj is a 43-year-old Yemeni citizen who has been detained without charge at Guantánamo since 2004 and in government custody since 2002. Prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, Al Hajj was held and brutally interrogated for over two years in CIA sites – treatment a district court found constituted "patent physical and psychological coercion."
Al Hajj is currently on a hunger strike because of growing despair over chronic health issues – including acute weakness, recurring jaundice, and severe abdominal pain – and his indefinite detention. In July 2017, after refusing tube feedings for several weeks, he fell unconscious and required emergency hospitalization.
In September 2017, after meeting with Al Hajj and growing alarmed at his marked decline, CCR filed an emergency request for an independent medical evaluation of Al Hajj and access to his medical records. In support of the motion, CCR sought independent assessments from two prominent physicians – Dr. Robert Cohen, former Director of the Montefiore Rikers Island Health Services, responsible for the medical and mental health care of over 13,000 prisoners in New York City jails; and Dr. Jess Ghannam, former Chief of Medical Psychology at UCSF-Mount Zion Medical Center. The assessments raise concerns about the possibility of a severe illness underlying Al Hajj's chronic symptoms, including serious liver disease. They also caution that the impact of his hunger strike, given his history of torture and chronic medical issues, could be "total body collapse."
Al Hajj's potential health crisis comes at a critical juncture, when, 16 years into his detention, with no prospects for transfer, he had been preparing to bring a new challenge to the legality of his indefinite detention. Al Hajj filed his original habeas petition in 2005, which was stayed until the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene v. Bush in 2008 affirming the right of Guantánamo detainees to habeas corpus, and which he ultimately withdrew in 2011, discouraged by the fate of other detainee cases, where habeas wins were virtually all overturned on appeal. Now, as he faces truly indefinite – and potentially permanent – detention, he is preparing to renew his challenge. His emergency motion for a medical evaluation seeks to ensure that he will be able to bring and participate in the defense of his future claims.