The American Medical Association (AMA) wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to express opposition to the U.S. military’s policy of force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
A handful of detainees began the hunger strike back in February in what experts and their lawyers said was out of frustration regarding their indefinite detention without charges being brought. But the crisis has since grown and now 100 of the 166 Gitmo prisoners have joined the hunger strike, up from 30 last month. U.S. officials say the military is force-feeding 21 of those detainees and 5 are reportedly in the hospital for observation. The U.S. military is sending more medics, doctors and nurses to deal with the escalating crisis.
In the letter to Hagel, AMA President Dr. Jeremy Lazarus said force-feeding competent prisoners making a conscious choice to refuse food is against medical ethical standards, the Miami Herald reports:
“Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” Lazarus said, adding that the AMA took the same position on force-feeding Guantánamo prisoners in 2009 and 2005.
“The AMA has long endorsed the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which is unequivocal on the point: ‘Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.’”
The AMA isn’t the first high-profile condemnation of force-feeding at Gitmo. A bipartisan expert report released earlier this month by the Constitution Project condemned the practice. “[We] came out very strongly condemning force feeding and this is in keeping and in line with international ethical standards,” said Dr. Gerald Thomson, a member of the Constitution Project’s detainee task force that compiled the report.
Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale told Reuters that he is unaware whether military doctors have raised concerns about force-feeding hunger striking Gitmo detainees. “I can tell you there have been no organized efforts, but I cannot speak for individual physicians. I can tell you that we will not allow detainees to harm themselves, and this includes attempts at suicide – including self-induced and peer-pressured starvation to death,” he said.
Colonel Greg Julian, public affairs chief for the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Gitmo, downplayed the severity of the situation. “This is the same procedure that is used in civilian hospitals for people that are in a condition where they’re unable to eat normally,” he said.
The Gitmo hunger strikes gained national attention when the New York Times published an op-ed titled “Gitmo Is Killing Me” by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Yemeni national currently imprisoned there who is on hunger strike. “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way,” he said, adding, “I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”