At a Glance
On September 10, 2019, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the district court for the District of Columbia denied Al Hajj's emergency request for an independent medical examination and his medical records, initially filed in 2017 after Al Hajj was hospitalized because of a hunger strike, and updated in 2019 after increasingly specific suicidal statements and then a suicide attempt in August 2019. Al Hajj is also part of a coordinated habeas petition on behalf of several detainees challenging the perpetual duration of their detention, filed in January 2018, which also remains pending in the district court.
Sharqawi Al Hajj is a 47-year-old citizen of Yemen who has been detained without charge at Guantánamo since 2004, after over two years in CIA sites. He faces the prospect of a death sentence in Guantanamo not only because his detention is indefinite, but because he is gravely ill today and faces serious risks to his life.
Al Hajj has a long history of severe physical symptoms - acute abdominal and urinary pain, extreme weakness and fatigue, and recurring jaundice - which are exacerbated by his only means of autonomous protest against his plight, in the form of repeated hunger strikes. In July 2017, he collapsed in his cell and required emergency hospitalization after a prolonged strike during which he eventually stopped drinking water. An outside medical opinion obtained by his counsel in support of an emergency motion for an independent medical evaluation found that Al Hajj - through a combination of his physical pain, hunger strikes and untreated torture - was at risk of "total bodily collapse."
Al Hajj's mental health in particular has taken a dramatic turn. In July and August 2019, after a series of increasingly concerning communications with his counsel, he made specific suicidal statements for the first time, stating that he wanted to "cut his nerves to make myself bleed" and "try to kill myself" because "for how long can I be patient." During a telephone call with his counsel on August 19, 2019, he then made an actual attempt by cutting his wrist with a piece of glass.
Al Hajj's crisis comes at a time of continuing stagnation on Guantanamo. Trump demonstrated by word and deed that no remaining detainee will be transferred, regardless of individual circumstance, and indeed, with one limited exception, no man has been transferred from the prison since January 2017. Just as Al Hajj's deterioration to this point was predictable, so too is his decline to a truly irreparable point without meaningful medical or court intervention.
Al Hajj is part of a coordinated habeas petition filed in January 2018 on behalf of 11 detainees who challenged the perpetual duration of their detention under the Due Process Clause and 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. His petition remains pending in the D.C. district court. He also filed an emergency motion for an independent medical evaliation and his medical records in 2017 after his collapse, which was denied by the district court even after Al Hajj's suicide attempt.
Despite his despair, he has a loving family in Yemen still waiting for his release, and would accept transfer to any safe country where he could attempt to recover and rebuild.