Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) chose to use today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of James Comey to become the next Director of the FBI to raise the issue of force-feeding. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein visited Guantanamo along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough last month to observe the treatment of detainees first-hand. What she saw there, including the force-feeding of dozens of inmates demanding action be taken on their cases, troubled her, she said.
“These are people now, 86 of them, who are no threat to this country, many of whom are being force fed to keep them alive,” Feinstein said, referring to the detainees who have been cleared for transfer to another country’s custody. “In my view this is inhumane and I’m curious as to what you would say about this,” she asked, adding “I’m very concerned about it. Because it is the wrong thing to do.”
Comey demurred in his answer, stating that were he to become FBI Director, he would have no jurisdiction over Guantanamo. “I don’t think it is an area that would be in my job scope,” he told Feinstein. “It is within all of our job scopes to care about how the United States of America acts,” the senator sharply responded, a sentiment Comey quickly agreed with. Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in wrapping up Feinstein’s question period told her, “I must say I agree exactly with what you said.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Majority Whip, began his time questioning Comey by saying that he agreed completely with Feinstein. “We’re going to join together, perhaps others would like to join us, asking him to use his executive authority to end the force-feeding at Guantanamo,” Durbin announced. Both Feinstein and Durbin based their argument around a recent court ruling in which Federal Judge Gladys Kessler concluded that while the courts are barred under federal law from taking action on force-feeding, no such roadblock exists for President Obama.
Not all attendees of the hearing were convinced that force-feeding is an issue that needs to be addressed. “Now I don’t know what — we talk about Guantanamo — and exactly what Sen. Feinstein is referring to there,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, asserting that “nobody is being tortured at Guantanamo.” Counter to Sessions’ claim, however, several experts have referred to the unethical nature of the practice with one United Nations official specifically referring to it as “torture.”
Feinstein and Durbin made good on their promise, on Wednesday sending a letter to President Obama encouraging him to use his authority to “stop conducting such large-scale force-feedings” and urging him to outline a formal process for closing Guantanamo as soon as possible.