People across the country are disgusted by the description of force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay offered by detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel.
Samir Naji, who has been at Guantanamo since 2002, offered the following account in a New York Times Op-Ed via his attorney:
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.
It sounds terrible.
And lthough Naval spokesman Captain Robert Durand called this description “absolutely false,” there’s no doubt the situation is ugly nonetheless.
However, there is no evidence that Guantanamo guards are acting out of line. In fact, they are doing exactly what U.S. courts have ordered guards to do in domestic prisons.
In 2005, the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that the state was obligated to force-feed hunger-striking inmate Charles R. McNabb.
“The right to decline force-feeding is not absolute because the state has an interest in protecting the sanctity of the lives of its citizens,” wrote appellate judge Ken Kato for a unanimous three-judge appellate panel in Spokane, according to The Seattle Times.
While the state could allow a terminally ill patient to decline treatment, in McNabb’s case the decision appeared to be “set in motion for purposes of committing suicide,” Kato wrote. And prisons don’t let prisoners commit suicide.
Last year the Connecticut Supreme Court similarly ruled that the state could force-feed hunger-striking inmate William B. Coleman.
Although Coleman’s lawyer argued that the force-feeding process was a kind of torture, the Supreme Court concluded that, “It is clear that the commissioner appropriately sought to preserve the defendant’s life using the safest, simplest procedure available, rather than improperly seeking to punish the defendant for engaging in his hunger strike. We therefore conclude that the trial court properly determined that the weight of international authority does not prohibit medically necessary force-feeding under such circumstances.”
Physically imposed forced feeding can no doubt, be painful. In fact, in 1975 the World Medical Association (WMA) stepped up and issued an international set of guidelines for physicians advising them against performing the procedure at all, arguing that it really was akin to torture.
Nonetheless America has clearly decided not to let prisoners commit suicide by starvation.
And so we turn to what’s happening right now in Guantanamo, where a mass hunger strike has reached its sixth week. 40 three of 166 detainees are acknowledged as participants in the strike, with many being force-fed.
When we were in Guantanamo last month, the hunger strike was just gathering steam and had allegedly begun after detainees became upset that uniformed guards handled their Korans.
We were taken to the detainee medical centre where the feedings occurred.
We were told that cooperative detainees were simply given a can of Ensure to drink — and that many supposedly took this option. Less cooperative detainees were strapped into a feeding chair. If a detainee relaxed at this point, a small, pliable rubber tube would be slipped through his nose and into his stomach. If a detainee continue to struggle, a larger, more rigid tube would be forced into him.
This can be a barbaric process, but it appears to be the appropriate response based on U.S. law.
It may also be a politically safer option than allowing detainees to die. Guantanamo faced some of its most intense public scrutiny in 2006 following the death of three detainees in an apparent suicide pact.
There remains a rumour among detainees that three simultaneous deaths would force the release of all remaining detainees, according to the base cultural advisor, an Iraqi named Zak.
Guantanamo has weathered worse hunger strikes than this one in the past, also resorting to force-feeding to keep detainees alive.
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