Guantánamo Force-Feeding Does Not Trouble Prison Doctors


Associated Press – The Guardian

Prison spokesman says no medical staff have expressed concerns about the treatment of hunger strikers.

Calls for the doctors who force-feed hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay to refuse to perform the practice on ethical grounds have got nowhere, a spokesman for the prison said on Thursday [20 June 2013].

No doctors, nurses or corpsman had balked at feeding the prisoners or even voiced a concern about the military’s policy of using what’s known as enteral feeding to prevent any of the hunger strikers starving to death, said Navy Captain Robert Durand.

“They signed up to carry out lawful orders,” Durand said. “This is a lawful order.”

The hunger strike at the US base in Cuba is nearing a fourth month amid increasing pressure on the defence department to reconsider its response to the protest.

Officials said 104 of the 166 prisoners were on hunger strike as of Thursday in a protest against their indefinite detention. Up to 44 are strapped down each day and force-fed liquid nutrients through a nasal tube.

“We do it to preserve life,” Durand said, denying the assertions from prisoners that the procedure is painful.

On Wednesday, Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate intelligence committee, released a letter she wrote to the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, after visiting Guantánamo in which she urged the Pentagon to re-evaluate the treatment of the hunger strikers, saying “the current approach raises very important ethical questions”.

The American Medical Association’s president wrote to Hagel in April to say that force-feeding hunger strikers violated core ethical values of the medical profession. A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine urged Guantánamo’s prison doctors to refuse to take part.

A lawyer for one of the prisoners charged before a military commission in the September 11 attacks sought unsuccessfully this week to raise the hunger strike during a pretrial hearing in the case.

Navy lieutenant commander Walter Ruiz said his client had refused meals but was not classified as a hunger striker by prison officials. Nevertheless he sought an order from the judge to bar the use of force-feeding. Prosecutors opposed the motion as not relevant.

“The reality is that it’s not the preservation of a life,” Ruiz said of force-feeding. “It’s the preservation of existence. There is no life. In essence, by keeping these people here we have already killed their soul, and their spirit and taken away their dignity.”

The judge, army colonel James Pohl, declined to take up the motion. Ruiz said he would continue to press the issue.

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