Gitmo Hunger Strikers Decry Force-Feeding

     (CN) – Four Guantanamo Bay detainees want a federal judge to bar the prison from force-feeding them to prevent their deaths by starvation during hunger strikes.
     Ahmed Belbacha, Nabil Hadjarab, Abu Wa’el (Jihad) Dhiab and Shaker Aamer say they have all been cleared for release from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but remain imprisoned.
     After they each elected to go on hunger strike to protest their continued detention in February, the prison began force-feedings in March, according to the complaint.
     In an application for preliminary injunction filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the detainees “respectfully ask one thing: to be allowed the choice whether to accept food or medicine.”
     Represented by the U.K. human rights organization Reprieve and Jon Eisenberg in Oakland, Calif., the detainees say they have been held at Guantanamo Bay for up to 11 years.
     “At this point, their detention without trial or military commission proceedings has become indefinite,” the application states. “To force-feed a noncriminal detainee in order to prolong his indefinite detention violates the law of human rights and thus serves no legitimate penological interest.”
     The detainees also call force-feeding inhumane and unethical.
     “Being strapped to a chair and having a tube forcibly inserted through one’s nostrils and into one’s stomach is dishonorable and degrading,” the application states. “It falls within the ambit of torture or other forms of inhumane treatment. In the long history of American detention of the enemy, bodily invasions of this character have never been the routine business of the prisoner of war camp.
     “Because petitioners’ force-feeding is not reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest, it is unlawful and should be enjoined. Additionally, the administration of the drug Reglan in conjunction with petitioners’ force-feeding should also be enjoined because it violates their right to refuse medical treatment with a drug that poses a significant risk of adverse side effects from prolonged use.”
     Reglan is a drug that suppresses vomiting, and may trigger seizures, convulsions or other muscle movement disorders.
     The detainees say the forced feedings make them unable to “trust the Guantánamo doctors and nurses, because those staff have been ordered by their superior officers to subject petitioners to a force-feeding regimen they reject and which causes them humiliation and pain.”
     Algerian citizen Hadjarab said in a declaration that, while he does not wish to die, “I am prepared to die because I believe there is no end-point to my imprisonment.” (Emphasis in original.)
     Syrian prisoner Dhiab similarly told his attorney: “Of course I know the consequences of refusing the food. And I will not eat. Why do you think I am on hunger strike in the first place?”
     “Petitioners do not wish to die,” the application states. “But hunger striking is the only peaceful means available to them to protest their indefinite detention. The purpose of petitioners’ force-feeding is to facilitate their indefinite detention not just by keeping them alive, but also by suppressing the only form of expression available to them to protest such detention.”
     The detainees also voiced special concern about forced feedings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. Ramadan begins this year on July 8.
     “Even if petitioners could lawfully be subjected to force-feeding, it must not interfere with their observation of the Ramadan fast, which would violate the Geneva Conventions and the RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] and thus cannot serve a legitimate penological interest,” the application states.
     Sen. Dianne Feinstein has recently voiced her objection to the forced feedings as “out of step with international norms, medical ethics and practices of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons,” petitioners claim.
     The American Medical Association also expressed its opposition to force-feeding prisoners, saying it “violates core ethical values of the medical profession,” in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

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