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End the Inhumane Force-Feeding Of Guantánamo Prisoners

Nahal Zamani,
Human Rights Program
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January 9, 2009

(Originally posted at Daily Kos.)

The ACLU has just sent an urgent letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to bring his attention to the cruel, inhuman, degrading and unlawful treatment of the 30 hunger striking detainees currently held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. The letter urges Secretary Gates to bring an end to the inhumane and unlawful practice of force feeding hunger-striking detainees.

According to news reports, 30 of the 250 detainees remaining at Guantánamo are hunger striking — the highest number of hunger strikers in months. Twenty-five of these men are now being force-fed through tubes, having either refused food for 21 consecutive days, or weigh less than 85 percent of their weight upon arrival at the detention facility or their ideal weight. Two of the striking detainees have been force-fed through tubes in their noses since August 2005. The unlawful force-feeding procedure requires that guards and medical professionals strap the detainee “into a chair, Velcro his head to a metal restraint, then tether a tube into the man’s stomach through his nose to pump in liquid nourishment twice a day.” Force-feeding is dangerous and can lead to major infections, collapsed lungs, and other devastating health consequences. Imad Hassan, one of the striking detainees, has been periodically force-fed for the last three years and suffers from serious digestive and pancreatic problems. Most importantly, force-feeding contravenes U.S. domestic and international law, and is universally considered to be a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

As we mention in our letter to Secretary Gates, it is critical to understand that:

…[t]hese detainees, none of whom have been charged with a crime, appear to be taking this extreme measure in order to protest their indefinite and arbitrary detention, conditions of confinement and lack of meaningful access to courts. By refusing food, these detainees hope to bring public attention to these matters of international concern.

We call on Secretary Gates to immediately order the prison camps commander to cease all force-feeding of detainees who are capable of forming a rational judgment and are aware of the consequences of refusing food. We also urge him to allow independent medical professionals to review and monitor the status of hunger striking detainees in a manner consistent with international ethical standards.

Sunday, January 11, 2009, marks the seventh anniversary of the first prisoners being sent to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Join our efforts, and call on President-elect Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo and end the unlawful military commissions on Day One of his presidency. To learn more, visit:

The full text of the ACLU’s letter to Secretary Gates is available online at: /intlhumanrights/nationalsecurity/38275res20090109.html