Force-Feeding at Guantanamo

Fri Feb. 10, 2006 7:34 PM EST

While the number of detainees on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay has dwindled down to four, the tactics that were employed by U.S. personnel to force-feed many of the strikers remain controversial. Guards were strapping detainees into "restraint chairs" for hours at a time and inserting feeding tubes down their nasal passages. Additionally, protesters were being held in isolation from one another and denied shoes, towels, pillows and blankets, in order to break them down. Authorities at Guantanamo call the practice "humane and compassionate"—a preventative measure against possible violence and rioting. But who knew it was so difficult to control starving people?

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At any rate, the hunger strike, the largest in history at the 500 person facility, called for the release of any detainees who had no affiliation with al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups. As noted in Brad's post yesterday, a new report based on Pentagon data indicates that 40 percent of the detainees have no affiliation with al-Qaeda—and 18 percent have no affiliation with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Not surprisingly, lawyers representing the detainees have called the force-feeding measures a form of torture, and a violation of medical ethics. These practices also bring into question whether U.S. military doctors are required to abide by the same moral codes as their civilian counterparts. A 1975 declaration by the World Medical Association states that doctors should not participate in force-feeding under any circumstances, but should keep prisoners informed of the consequences of starving themselves.

U.S. doctors are legally bound to abide by the declaration through their membership to the American Medical Association. But the U.S. Department of Defense feels differently, and argue that the care taken while inserting nasogastric feeding tubes makes the practice ethical and humane. The Pentagon also mentions that "no detainees have died at Guantanamo Bay," because, as stated by Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. John Gong, "We have a great desire to ensure they are healthy."

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