The military doesn’t say it is tube feeding Gitmo detainees against their will. According to Gitmo spokesman Lt. Col. Samuel House, the men are “on the enteral feed list.” Detainee lawyers say their hunger striking clients are given a choice, either consume some form of nutrient or get strapped to a restraining chair and forcibly receive food via a tube that is inserted in the nasal cavity, run down through the esophagus and into the stomach.
Reports from detainees on the painful process of tube force-feeding is what brought the most recent Gitmo hunger strike wider national attention. One detainee lawyer said his client described the process as having a razor blade being shoved down his throat.
This is partly why medical associations and experts are opposed to force-feeding and have spoken out against the practice at Gitmo. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently wondered whether force-feeding is torture. “[W]e must still ask ourselves whether force-feeding hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo — many of whom have never been convicted of any crime and yet have no hope of release, or long periods of solitary confinement which is routinely used in our prisons, violate the Convention [Against Torture], not to mention our own Constitution,” he said.
The World Medical Association has declared that for a doctor, force-feedng mentally competent prisoners “is never ethically acceptable,” a point that perhaps prompted three physicians in a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine to call on doctors at Guantanamo Bay to refuse to participate in force-feeding hunger striking detainees, a process they call “aggravated assault”:
Physicians at Guantanamo cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations. Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine it is aggravated assault. Using a physician to assault prisoners no more changes the nature of the act than using physicians to “monitor” torture makes torture a medical procedure. Military physicians are no more entitled to betray medical ethics than military lawyers are to betray the Constitution or military chaplains are to betray their religion.
Four Gitmo detainees this week filed a motion in federal court seeking to halt force-feeding. “Being strapped to a chair and having a tube forcibly inserted through one’s nostrils and into one’s stomach is dishonorable and degrading,” according to the motion for a preliminary injunction. “It falls within the ambit of torture.”
“There cannot be a legitimate penological interest in force-feeding petitioners to prolong their indefinite detention,” says the 30-page filing by California attorney Jon B. Eisenberg and London-based lawyer Cori Crider of the human rights group Reprieve, according to the Miami Herald. “It facilitates the violation of a fundamental human right. The very notion of it is grotesque.”
“I have not decided to do this lightly,” Algerian prisoner Ahmed Belbacha said in an accompanying affidavit. “Each day of the strike is an ordeal.”