U.S. Officials Invite Israelis To Give Advice On Dealing With Hunger Strikers

Restraint chair used for force-feeding at Gitmo (Credit: Time)

American officials have reportedly invited Israeli medical experts to come to the United States to educate policymakers on their methods in dealing with prison hunger strikes.

The United States has received wide-spread criticism for the way authorities at Guantanamo Bay have handled the most recent hunger strike there, which has included instituting a policy of force-feeding prisoners against their will — a practice that experts, rights and medical groups, physicians and U.S. lawamkers have condemned and likened to torture.

Haaretz reports that officials from the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) discussed the matter during a recent convention at the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, telling their American counterparts how Israelis have been successful at dealing with hunger strikers without force-feeding:

At the Johns Hopkins convention, Dr. Tami Karni, deputy chairperson of the IMA ethics committee, told of two cases in the past year when two prisoners on hunger strike were hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Hospital in serious condition. Both refused liquids or food, and doctors feared for their lives.

In such cases the ethics committee of the hospital is called, together with a senior official of the Health Ministry. One of the prisoners was taken to intensive care due to a serious disruption in his heart functioning, and was convinced by the committee to accept medication. The other prisoner was hospitalized in serious condition, but in a varying state of consciousness due to lack of vitamin B1. The committee decided, against his will, to administer the vitamin so that he could consciously decide how he would be treated.

Several hours later he agreed of his own will to take the vitamin. Karni said that “all this was done gently and quietly, without any violence or coercion by the doctors. Hunger strikes are delicate situations, necessitating doctors to enable non-violent protest without force-feeding the prisoner.”

Haaretz says that “[f]ollowing the convention, IMA officials received requests to return to the United States and explain Israeli policies to administration officials.”

But before the Israelis even arrive in the U.S., authorities at Guantanamo Bay might be able to take some advice from Physicians for Human Rights, a group that criticized the Israelis for their lack of independent physicians overseeing hunger strikes and instead placing prison doctors subordinate to prison authorities, a system that creates “a position of ‘dual loyalty’ — to the patient and to the Prison Service.”

“[I]n light of the possible conflict of interests, the Ethics Department has declared that independent doctors [unaffiliated with the prisons] must be allowed to be in daily contact with hunger strikers,” an Israeli official said at the Johns Hopkins conference.

Military officials told ThinkProgress that there are no independent physicians overseeing the hunger strikers at Gitmo. “All of the Joint Medical Group personnel — doctors, nurses and hospital corpsmen — are U.S. Navy,” said Gitmo spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand.

“The Israeli doctors would truly be doing a service if they are able to convince their American counterparts to stop force-feeding Guantanamo prisoners,” writes Michael Omer-Man on the Israeli English language website +972 Magazine.

A Federal judge on Monday suggested that the Gitmo force-feeding policy is illegal, calling the process “painful, humiliating, and degrading” and adding that President Obama “has the authority — and power — to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”