News / USA

US Judge Urges Obama to Address Force-Feeding Guantanamo Prisoners

Protesters depicting detainees of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hold a banner, during a demonstration outside the US embassy in central London, May 18, 2013.
Protesters depicting detainees of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hold a banner, during a demonstration outside the US embassy in central London, May 18, 2013.
A U.S. federal judge has urged President Barack Obama to directly address the issue of feeding hunger strikers against their will at the Guantanamo Bay prison, where more than 100 men are refusing food to protest their indefinite detention.

District Judge Gladys Kessler said Monday that “force-feedings are a painful, humiliating and degrading process.” The stinging critique of the practice came in a four-page opinion dismissing the petition of Syrian detainee Jihad Dhiab to stop his forced feeding. 

Kessler asserted she did not have the jurisdiction to respond to Dhiab’s request, but said Obama, as commander-in-chief, has the authority and power to do so.

The White House has not commented on the federal judge's suggestion that Obama address what's happening at Guantanamo.

In a May national security speech, the president discussed the situation of feeding hunger-striking detainees against their will. “Is that the America we want to leave our children?” Obama asked. “Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

Dhiab has been detained at Guantanamo Bay for 11 years, despite having been cleared for release to a third country in 2009. He asked for expedited consideration of his petition out of concern for his ability to observe Ramadan, which requires observers to fast from sunup to sundown. The Muslim holy month begins Monday evening.

A graphic reminder

Kessler’s rebuke came as the British human rights group Reprieve released a video protesting the detainees' treatment. It shows rapper Yasiin Bey, known as Mos Def, undergoing the standard operating procedures for feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo. 

Of the 166 prisoners held at the U.S. naval base, 106 are refusing to eat. Forty-five of them are being fed a liquid meal replacement through a tube that snakes up their nasal cavity, into their throat, through the esophagus and into their stomach, according to the Defense Department.

In the video showing the practice, Bey, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, sits in a medical chair, his arms, legs and head restrained with straps and chains. Guards hold him down as he yells and squirms while a tube is inserted into his nose. White liquid drips from his nostrils as he pleads for the procedure to stop. 

Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale would not comment on what he called a “theatrical performance,” but said the Pentagon’s procedures match those practiced by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Respecting Ramadan

He said the Guantanamo team is respectful of detainees’ Ramadan observances.

“We intend to only feed detainees outside of daylight hours, which we believe is a reasonable religious accommodation,” Breasseale said, adding that if there is an emergency situation, the prisoners would be fed during the day.

“The position of the government is that we will not allow detainees in our charge to commit suicide and that includes attempts to starve themselves to death,” he said.

Attorney David Remes, who has five clients being tube-fed at the U.S. detention center, says suicide isn’t the intention.

“They don’t want to die. They want to be released,” he said by telephone from Yemen, where he’s meeting a client's family.

Hunger strikes are not uncommon at Guantanamo, and Remes said in the past they’ve ended relatively quickly after guards addressed detainees’ concerns. This strike is different, he said. It began in February when prisoners got upset at the way guards were handling their Qurans, and has turned into something much bigger.

“I think it has become a more general cause focusing on, ‘This can’t go on forever. It just can’t go on forever,’” Remes said.

No end in sight

When President Obama took office in 2009, he signed an executive order to close Guantanamo, the world’s most expensive prison, within a year. Four and half years later, and 11 years since it first opened, the detention center remains fully operational with no end in sight.

The Senate has voted against funding the prison’s closure. Discussions about where to house and try terrorism suspects are unresolved. And security and political obstacles are standing in the way of the 86 detainees who have been cleared for release or transfer to other countries.

Breasseale said the Defense Department is in a difficult situation - it didn’t “solicit the mission” to oversee Guantanamo, but it has to carry it out.

“We do not believe it’s in our best security interest. We believe it’s inefficient, as evidence by the cost," he said. "But until such time that we can close it, we will continue to care for the detainees in a way that’s humane and that matches our core values.”

How humane the care is may be debatable. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and several United Nations authorities have called for a stop to the forced feedings. And the American Medical Association has told Defense Department officials that physicians participating in the forced feeding of people against their will is a violation of the core ethical values of the medical profession. The Code of Medical Ethics outlines the right of every competent patient to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions.  

Breasseale said any prisoner who skips nine consecutive meals is considered to be hunger striking, and those who present certain health issues, like a drop in body mass index, receive meal replacements. The issues, and the time it takes to develop them, differ for each individual.

Among the 45 prisoners being fed by medical personnel, there are three personality types, Breasseale said. One accepts the tube. Another leaves guards with no choice but to force it up their nose. And the third opts out of tube-feeding altogether.

“Many of the detainees, once they get into the room, they choose to drink it right from the container. And they choose strawberry, vanilla or chocolate."

Unbreakable?

Breasseale acknowledged the number of hunger strikers has reached a new high. He attributed that to the “confluence of motivated habeaus council and clever cause marketing,” which has brought the prisoners’ situation to a level of public consciousness never seen before.

Remes said the prisoners’ new resolve is in response to what he described as humiliating treatment overseen by Colonel John Bogdan, known as Guantanamo's "warden." The attorney said Bogdan is trying to break the strikers by making life more difficult, including moving them from communal to isolation cells and requiring them to undergo genital searches if they want to phone or visit their lawyer.

“I don’t know what point [Bogdan is] making," Remes said, "because the number of force fed detainees has been rising, not falling.”


Clarification: A Guantanamo detainee must skip nine consecutive meals to be considered a hunger striker, not to be put on the enteral feeding list.

You May Like

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mark T
July 08, 2013 10:31 PM
Gitmo is, and has always been, a sad chapter in this whole unpleasant and unfortunate drama that has played out now for 12 years. What was done, is done...now let it be done and over with. Close the damn place. Why it should take millions of dollars to perform the simple act of shutting the doors is beyond me. Either we try these men, or we let them go. Nothing is to be gained from all this now, but more bad rep for America. And another point I want to make...we have tens of thousands of citizens starving in our cities and on our streets all across this country. They are starving because no one is putting out the help to feed them. These men in Gitmo are starving themselves and do not want to be fed. I say we let the detainees starve and we use the nutritious foods we are forcing upon them to feed our own citizens. "..care for the detainees in a way that is humane and that matches our core values." Right....it seems to be a growing trend in this country to force upon others those "core values" whether they want them or not. Of course it is like our politicians to make it difficult when the problem can be easily solves if they just agree to do something for once, without arguing about it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid