Feinstein Asks Carter to End Force Feedings at Gitmo

Yesterday Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter asking him to end the unnecessary force-feeding of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The force-feedings violate international law, and many consider them a form of torture. Last year, the U.N. Committee Against Torture said the Convention Against Torture prohibits such treatment.

The process is brutal: detainees are “tackled and shackled” before being strapped into a chair, known among detainees as the “torture chair.” Emad Abdullah Hassan, a detainee who has sued the Obama Administration to try to stop the force-feeding, says it usually causes him to vomit or defecate on himself.

In July 2013 Yassin Bey, a musician formerly known as Mos Def, allowed himself to be force-fed on camera according to the method used daily on 45 Guantanamo prisoners at the time. He lasted a few seconds before breaking into tears. The Department of Defense no longer releases the number of prisoners hunger-striking or receiving force-feedings.

In federal prisons, force-feeding can be used for medical necessity but only a doctor can make the decision to force-feed an inmate. In Guantanamo, a military officer makes that call. Federal prisons also do not use restraint chairs and must report to a sentencing judge exactly what is done.

Feinstein notes in her letter that the World Medical Association says that force-feeding is “never ethically acceptable,” and doing so using coercion, force, or physical restraints “is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.” The American Nurses Association supports medical professionals who refuse to participate in the practice because it violates their professional code of ethics. Nonetheless, the Department of Defense continues to discipline nurses and medical staff who refuse to take part in Guantanamo force-feedings. Feinstein called for Carter to respect military nurses’ ethical obligations.

If the DOD will not end Gitmo’s force-feedings, Feinstein urged Carter to institute the standards and accountability measures used in federal prisons. She also requested videotape of the procedures, which was previously denied.

This isn’t Feinstein’s first letter on the matter—she wrote to former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel with the same requests. Human Rights First and other rights organizations also called on Hagel to end force-feeding and other abusive treatment in Guantanamo Bay.

Many Gitmo detainees who have spent over a decade in the prison without charge or trial lose hope; hunger strikes are often their only available form of peaceful protest. As Feinstein points out, the force-feeding problem stems from Congress and the administration’s failure to close Guantanamo. She calls on the administration to announce a plan for permanently closing the facility. Human Rights First has outlined what this process should look like in our blueprint.

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Published on April 8, 2015

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