The U.S. military says that 100 of the 166 Gitmo detainees are currently on hunger strike, although detainee lawyers say the number could be closer to 130. Their refusal to eat initially began in February as a protest against guards allegedly mishandling their Qurans but it has grown into a general demonstration against their indefinite detention.
David Remes, a lawyer representing some of those on hunger strike, described the process to the CBC’s As It Happens on Monday:
REMES: You’re strapped into a restraining chair with so many straps and hand cuffs that you can’t move a muscle. Then a tube is snaked down your throat putting it through your nostril down to your stomach and they pump Ensure into it or other nutrients and they do that until they’ve given you what they consider to be enough and then they take the tube out. … And detainees have described the experience of having the tube snaked down your throat as being like having a razor blade pulled down.
The American Medical Association, a bipartisan expert task force on Gitmo detainees and a top U.N. official have condemned the military’s force-feeding policy, saying it violates international law and could amount to torture.
Military officials say authorities force-feeds hunger strikers at Gitmo in order “to preserve life.” But Remes argues the policy is meant to prevent detainees from becoming martyrs:
REMES: The government doesn’t have the right or the authority to make that decision for the detainee. I’m sure you’re aware of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands who died many years ago because the British didn’t force feed him. Now they did the right thing but as a consequence, he became a martyr. The U.S. doesn’t want the detainees to become martyrs. When they say it’s lawful, what they really mean is it’s their policy. There’s no requirement that they do it. There’s no prohibition against their doing it. They just do it.
Listen to the full interview here:
Another lawyer representing two Kuwaiti detainees told NBC News on Sunday that one of his clients described a similar brutal force-feeding process:
“When that tube goes up your nose, your eyes begin to water, as it passes through the back of your skull. As it passes through your throat, you begin to gag and you begin to suck for air until it’s passed into your stomach,” [Lt. Col. Barry] Wingard said. “It’s agony, according to my client.
“The more times that you’ve been force-fed this way, the more your nose gets inflamed, the more your esophagus begins to burn, the more your stomach begins to burn.”
A new survey released on Tuesday from the polling firm YouGov found that 56 percent of Americans opposed force-feeding hunger striking Gitmo detainees, even if that means that they will die.
The Gitmo hunger strikes gained national attention after one detainee described the “painful” process of force-feeding in a New York Times op-ed last month. President Obama has since said that he will renew efforts to close the prison there.