When President Obama ran for election in 2008, he proudly proclaimed, “America does not torture!” With public disgust at the Bush administration’s policies of torture and extraordinary rendition running high, Obama pledged to end the torture of foreign detainees and close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Now, after almost a year into Obama’s second term as president, it has become clear that these promises remain unfulfilled. The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open, with over 150 prisoners being held for the past 11 years without being accorded due process or given a fair trial. In response to these injustices, the prisoners began a hunger strike in February, 2013.
The Guantanamo prisoners were captured in Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded in October, 2001, in response to the terrorist attack in New York City on 9/11. It is suspected that many of these prisoners have, at best, a tenuous link to international terrorism. Many were simply turned over to U.S. forces by rival political factions as a means to settle old political scores. Others were falsely accused of terrorist activity and turned over to U.S. forces in exchange for ransom.
Out of over 100 Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike, it is reported that over 45 are being force-fed. Force-feeding is considered a violation of human rights law due to the violent and painful nature of the process. To be force-fed, a prisoner’s arms and legs are chained to a chair. The head is then strapped to the back of the chair, rendering the prisoner immobile. A feeding tube is then inserted into a nostril and forced through the sinuses, down the throat, and into the stomach.
According to one detainee, Samir Moqbel, “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 on anyone (“Down The Tubes: The 2013 Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Bay” (www.reprieve.org.uk)).
If a detainee refuses to be force-fed, beatings are common, along with the forced administration of nausea-inducing medications or time in solitary confinement.
Besides falling under the United Nations’ definition of torture, force-feeding also constitutes a violation of medical ethics. On Wednesday, July 24, 2013, a Senate Judiciary Committee was held on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., explicitly stated that the force-feeding of detainees violated medical ethics, our international legal obligations, and amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (www.commondreams.org, 07/25/2013).
In response to this inhumane treatment, over 150 doctors issued an open letter to President Obama. This letter was published in the Lancet medical journal last June. In the letter, the doctors recognized that the detainees did not trust the military doctors who attended to them at Guantanamo. These military doctors are accused of force-feeding the detainees, who requested that civilian doctors be allowed to treat them and aid in their rehabilitation (www.cnn.com, 06/18/2013).
President Obama’s response has been typically noncommittal. In a major foreign policy speech on May 23, President Obama reiterated his promise to close the Guantanamo prison as well as release 86 prisoners who were cleared to leave by his interagency task force back in January, 2010. As of this writing, these prisoners have not been released. Additionally, more than 40 prisoners continue to be force-fed and have not been granted their request to be attended to by civilian doctors.
This type of inhuman and unconstitutional treatment is symptomatic of the current national surveillance state. Following the NSA surveillance revelations and the police crackdown on Occupy and other protests, the Guantanamo prison constitutes a microcosm of how the ruling elite intends to deal with threats to its political and economic interests. Activists and socialists need to recognize that the fight of the hunger strikers is also our own.
We call for:
End the force-feeding of prisoners;
Right of all prisoners to work with independent doctors and medical staff;
Release or charge all Guantanamo detainees;
Close the Guantanamo Bay prison.