Force-feeding is torture; it must stop
Nearly four months into a hunger strike that has now spread to some two-thirds of the detainees at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the question “Is force-feeding torture?” no longer in this headline can be avoided.
Fundamentally, hunger strikes are a form of speech for prisoners who have no other way to communicate their concerns. Hunger strikes give them the means to protest their confinement and to send a message about that confinement.
- For decades, the international community, including the International Red Cross, the World Medical Association and the United Nations, have recognized the right of prisoners of sound mind to go on a hunger strike. Force-feeding has been labeled a violation on the ban of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The World Medical Association holds that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in force-feeding. Put simply, force-feeding violates international law.
Whatever triggered the hunger strike at Guantanamo — the detainees say that the military had begun searching their Qurans and instituted a series of harsh new measures, which the military denies — the underlying issue is that the detainees are in despair of ever getting out.
Many of them, including 56 men from Yemen, have been cleared to leave the prison by a committee of top national-security officials. But thanks to a combination of congressional actions taken during the past few years and the timidity of President Barack Obama, they remain in Guantanamo with no end in sight. The hunger strike has been their way of reminding the world of their continued imprisonment, and it has worked brilliantly. One wonders whether Obama even would have mentioned Guantanamo in his big national-security speech last week if not for the strikers.
The military claims that it is force-feeding the detainees in order to keep them safe and alive. According to The Miami Herald, about one-third of the detainees on strike — at least 35 men, though possibly more — are being force-fed. A handful are in the hospital.
- Not long ago, however, Al-Jazeera got hold of a 30-page document that detailed the standard operating procedures used by the military to force-feed a detainee. The document makes for gruesome reading: the detainee shackled to a special chair (which looks like the electric chair); the head restraints if he resists; the tube pushed painfully down his nose; the half-hour or so of ingestion of nutritional supplements; the transfer of the detainee to a “dry cell,” where, if he vomits, he is strapped back into the chair until the food is digested.
- Detainees also apparently are given an anti-nausea drug called Reglan, which has a horrible potential side effect if given for more than three months: a disease called tardive dyskinesia, which causes twitching and other uncontrollable movements. “This drug is very scary,” said Cori Crider, the legal director of Reprieve, a London-based group that represents several detainees.
The lawyers representing the detainees would like to file a motion in federal court to stop the force-feeding, but there is a Catch-22. They can’t go to court without the consent of their clients — and thanks to another set of harsh new protocols, including the genital and anal searches I wrote about last week, most clients now are refusing to talk to their lawyers.
Even before the force-feeding procedures were leaked, international organizations were protesting the practice. The U.N. Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement in early May calling the continued detention in Guantanamo a “flagrant violation of international human-rights law” and categorizing the force-feeding at the prison as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who has done a great deal of research into the practice of force-feeding, said, “The persistence of the military’s force-feeding policy in the face of international law, and the manner in which it is done, constitutes torture.”
Here is the most infuriating part. Obama is on record as saying that America should never practice torture. He has also, of course, called for Guantanamo to be closed down.
Without question, any effort he might make to shut down the prison would be met with resistance in Congress; it’s already begun. But the practice of force-feeding detainees, which virtually every international body condemns as a violation of international law — and which they decry as cruel and inhuman? He could stop that in a heartbeat, with one call to the Pentagon.
After all, he is the commander in chief.
Joe Nocera writes for The New York Times.
Actually, one isn’t needed – – Joe HAS covered all bases here. The rest is up to us to let our office holders know how we feel; that this is un-American and cruel and should never be allowed. Our president MUST rise to his duty and do it. Congress as we all know is almost without the possibility of reform – – should resign. . . . have no shame. Jan)