Back to News & Commentary

Judge OKs Force-Feeding of Gitmo Detainees

Nahal Zamani,
Human Rights Program
Share This Page
February 13, 2009

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler refused to stop Guantánamo guards from using a restraint chair while force-feeding hunger-striking detainees in the detention facility. In Mohammed Al-Adahi, et al., v. Obama, et al, two Yemeni detainees, Mohammad Ali Abdullah Bawazir and Zahir Omar Khamis Bin Hamdoon, brought a case against President Obama, arguing against the use of the restraint chair. Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, describes the gruesome and heart-wrenching procedure:

[G]uards strap a shackled captive into a chair and Velcro his head to a metal restraint. Camp staff then tether a tube through the man’s nose and down to his stomach to pump in a protein shake twice a day. Each feeding lasts about an hour.

Both Bawazir and Hamdoon allege that it is not only unnecessary to use the restraint chair, but that they were also strapped in for more than an hour — the time needed to complete a feeding. The medical records from Guantánamo also support this claim. Bawazir maintains that he has never protested his feedings, and should not have to be restrained. Both expressed concern that military personnel, rather than medical personnel, have begun to administer the force-feeding.

Judge Kessler’s refusal of their motion glosses over the administration of the force-feeding by military instead of medical personnel, and most importantly, allows guards to continue their use of the chair. The opinion also stresses that the court has no jurisdiction in this matter because even though the Supreme Court found section 7 of the Military Commissions Act (MCA)—the part that denies habeas corpus rights to detainees—unconstitutional, the rest of the MCA has not been struck down, and Congress has barred litigation over conditions of confinement at Guantánamo. (This is one of the reasons why Congress should repeal the MCA.)

In early January, the ACLU wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Gates in response to the force-feeding of detainees, citing international human rights violations. We pointed out that force-feeding must be ceased, and independent medical professionals must review and monitor the conditions of the hunger-striking detainees. On Wednesday, the ACLU received a response from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Detainee Affairs Sandra Hodgkinson, wherein the Department of Defense (DoD) maintained that “detainees under its control [are treated] humanely and in a manner fully in accordance with U.S. legal obligations” and “provided quality care that ensures their humane and safe detention.” But we’re not believing it, and Judge Kessler agrees. In her opinion, she writes about the harsh conditions facing the detainees:

There have been several episodes of widespread protests by the detainees, and many of them have engaged in hunger strikes of both short-term and very long-term (5 years and more) duration. Many detainees have complained of brutal treatment, lack of medical care, and long placements in solitary confinement. To this Court’s knowledge, none of these allegations, or the Government’s denials, have been fully tested and subjected to the rigors of cross-examination in open court. They may never be.

Although Kessler made key acknowledgements in the inhumane treatment of detainees at Guantánamo, she still essentially accepted the Pentagon’s argument that its forced-feeding regime is humane. This is a critically important decision, especially in light of the recent commitment by the Obama administration to openness and transparency, and to close Guantánamo.

Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU’s Human Right Program, told The Plum Line: “What is truly remarkable is that some Pentagon officials have not come to terms with the change in the administration and continue to use the same misguided Bush administration talking points claiming that Guantánamo is an oasis for humane treatment.”

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of Naval Operations, is currently conducting the DoD review ordered by President Obama under Section 6 of his January 22, 2009 executive order to determine whether conditions of confinement at Guantánamo conform to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and to “other applicable laws.”

We hope that President Obama’s order will bring change and action to restore the rule of law and humanity to U.S.-run prisons and detention facilities, in addition to adhering to the U.S. Constitution and applicable international human rights standards.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page