Doctors oppose force-feeding Guantanamo hunger strikers
Brennan Linsley, AP
For nearly four months detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been on a hunger strike. A May 30 report from The Guardian suggested that the detainees, some of whom have been locked up for nearly 12 years without charges, consider the strike a way of drawing attention to their cases.
"The hunger strike is the only reason we are talking about Guantanamo. It would be a terrible mistake by the administration to think that they have dealt with this with one speech (President Barack Obama's pledge to close the camp)," said Omar Farah, a lawyer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which works with numerous prisoners who are striking, in an interview with The Guardian.
At the height of the strike, which began March 4, 106 of the 166 detainees were participating. Reports surfaced Thursday that at least two participants dropped out, which some officials say likely means the strike has run its course, according to a report by Fox News.
Pentagon officials responsible for the camp have responded by force-feeding prisoners. By the most recent count at least 45 detainees are being force-fed.
Many Americans learned about the procedure for the first time when a video featuring Yasiin Bey, the rapper and actor formerly known as Mos Def, undergoing the procedure went viral, according to NPR. Although this could be seen as a publicity stunt, NPR reports that physicians say it exposes the unethical treatment and pain strikers subjected to force-feeding experience.
Navy medical staff at the camp use a formula based on the amount of weight lost and the number of meals missed to determine when a prisoner should be fed, according to a report by the Miami Herald. Then Army guards bring the captive to a restraint chair where a "Navy nurse snakes a tube up his nose, down the back of his throat and into his stomach. This is done up to twice a day, for up to two hours each time, to pump a can of Ensure into the captive’s stomach."
Although the Pentagon and the president stand by their decision to use force-feeding, saying they don't want anyone to die, it is a practice that is frowned upon in the international medical community, according to NPR.
In 2006, the World Medical Association, an organization representing doctors around the world, issued a statement outlining its opposition to the practice, according to NPR:
"'Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.'"
American doctors are also reluctant to embrace the policy. The American Medical Association has said in a letter from president Jeremy Lazarus to the secretary of defense that the practice "violates core ethical values of the medical profession."
Vince Iacopino, a doctor with Physicians for Human Rights, told NPR that force-feeding is degrading and painful.
"These hunger strikes represent the protest of people indefinitely detained and not charged," said Iacopino, who has examined prisoners at Guantanamo. "Many have been cleared for repatriation."
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