Rights Groups Ask Pentagon To Stop Force-Feeding Gitmo Hunger Strikers

Force-feeding equipment for Gitmo detainees, including feed tube and liquid nutrients

A group of human rights organizations is calling on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to abandon force-feeding hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch and 17 other groups wrote the Pentagon on Monday … [calling] Guantánamo’s force-feeding process “inherently cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”

We urgently request that you order the immediate and permanent cessation of all force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners who are competent and capable of forming a rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food,” they wrote.

The letter also asked Hagel to allow “independent medical professionals” access to the prison to “review and monitor the status of hunger-striking prisoners in a manner consistent with international ethical standards.”

While other groups like the American Medical Association and the Constitution Project’s task force on terror detainees have also condemned force-feeding at Gitmo, the rights groups’ letter comes after Al-Jazeera reported on Monday the contents of the Guantanamo Bay Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for managing hunger strikes at the prison. The documents illustrate “a brutal and dehumanising medical procedure that requires [detainees] to wear masks over their mouths while they sit shackled in a restraint chair for as long as two hours.”

A lawyer representing several Gitmo prisoners said last week that “detainees have described the experience of having the tube snaked down your throat as being like having a razor blade pulled down.” The lawyer, David Remes, said the military uses force-feeding to prevent detainees from becoming martyrs.

The SOP makes clear that the prison commander, not doctors and nurses, has the final authority regarding whether a detainee is to be force-fed and that only “reasonable efforts” are needed to get consent from a hunger striking detainee to begin force-feeding.

Leonard Rubenstein, a lawyer at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath and the Berman Institute of Bioethics, told Al-Jazeera that the SOP is “Orwellian.”

“It is a very frightening idea that the medical staff is an adjunct of the security force,” Rubenstein said. “The clinical judgment of a doctor or a nurse is basically trumped by this policy and protocol. Doctors are not acting with the kind of professional medical independence [they should]. It’s clear that, notwithstanding references to preservation of detainee health in the policy, the first interest is in ending the protests.”

While the military says that 100 detainees are currently on hunger strike, their lawyers say the number is closer to 120. The Herald’s Rosenberg said on Twitter on Wednesday that a record 30 hunger strikers are being force fed and three are currently in the hospital.

President Obama said late last month that he will renew efforts to close Gitmo. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Tuesday that the administration is looking at filling a vacant position that focuses on coordinating Gitmo policy. “We’re in the process of working on that now. We’re looking at candidates,” he said. However, the Obama administration probably won’t get much help from Republicans in Congress, as many have made clear that they will resist Obama’s renewed efforts to close Guantanamo.