Yesterday Senators Feinstein and Durbin sent a letter to President Obama, calling on him to exercise his authority as Commander in Chief to bring the force-feeding of prisoners at Gitmo into line with the law and medical ethics. Their letter comes on the heels of a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia declaring that although the court lacked jurisdiction to stop the force-feedings, President Obama has the power to act.
The letter argues that force-feeding practices at Gitmo violate medical ethics and international law, including Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the prohibition on cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It urges the President to limit force-feedings to when it is medically necessary to save a detainee’s life and to align Department of Defense policies on force-feeding with U.S. Bureau of Prison policies, which provide safeguards and oversight mechanisms not in place at Guantanamo.
Sens. Feinstein and Durbin note the District Court’s assessment, based on the statements of detainees and medical organizations, that force-feeding “is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.” The pain of force-feeding was brought to light in graphic detail when well-known rapper Mos Def and the human rights organization Reprieve released a video this week of the rapper undergoing the procedure as conducted at Guantanamo.
Citing Obama’s May 23 speech at the National Defense University, the senators expressed their view that force-feeding is not reflective of who we are, the America our Founders foresaw, or the America we want to leave to our children. They agreed with the president that “[o]ur sense of justice is stronger than that.”
Most importantly, their letter notes that hunger strikes are a symptom of the unsustainable policy of indefinitely detaining people at Guantanamo. The president and Congress must act to close Guantanamo and address the fate of the 166 people who remain imprisoned.
To that end, the president should begin transferring cleared detainees to foreign countries using the security waiver authority, which allows the Secretary of Defense to get around the most onerous legislative restrictions on preventing transfers. The White House should also work to ensure that the Guantanamo provisions in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014, which is expected to head to the Senate floor soon, provides adequate authority for the executive branch to transfer cleared detainees aborad for resettlement and to the United States for detention and trial.
Senator Feinstein and Durbin are right to call attention to the administration’s force-feeding policy, which doesn’t do anything to address the underlying problems at Guantanamo and only makes things worse. It’s time now for the president to lead on Guantanamo, and for Congress to lift the unwise and unnecessary restrictions on transferring detainees.