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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid