Guantanamo detainees take action against forced-feeding

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Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are taking action to stop force-feeding and force-medicating at the U.S. Naval base, practices which have become common during the widespread hunger strike that has been going on at Guantanamo for months.

Lawyers for four detainees have filed a motion with a federal court in Washington D.C., arguing that forcing someone to eat violates a fundamental right and is unlawful since the detainees have never been convicted of a crime.

“Fundamentally, what my clients are asking for is a choice. The same thing you or I have. The fundamental thing that makes us all human — the choice about whether to eat or not,” Cori Crider, a lawyer from the human rights group Reprieve, who filed the motion, said.

According to the latest count, the prison is force-feeding 44 out of the 106 detainees who are participating in the hunger strike. Guantanamo Bay has a total of 166 detainees.

When the prison's medical staff concludes that one of the hunger strikers is in need of nutrition, the detainee is given a twice-daily dose of a nutritional supplement. A member of the medical team snakes a tube through the detainee's nose, down their throat, and into their stomach.

“The issue is not that I wish to die. I wish to live, free, with my family...But I am prepared to die because I believe there is no end-point to my imprisonment,” Nabil Hadjarab, one of the prisoners in the case, wrote in the filing.

However, Cully Stimson, a former defense official in charge of Guantanamo detainee affairs and currently a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, disagrees with the idea that the prisoners should have this choice.

“On the one hand, you're respecting the right of the detained person to protest...and on the other hand, you have the policy position of this administration — and it's the right one — that we're not going to let it get to the point where they can kill themselves,” Stimson said. Crider says that under certain conditions, the practice amounts to torture.

“It's about half a dozen soldiers in riot gear pulling you out of your cell, strapping you into a chair with a bunch of belts across it, holding your head...while someone is trying to shove a tube down into your stomach,” she said.

“This is not a standard hospital procedure. This is something that goes way, way beyond that.” The prisoners involved in the case are asking the court to act quickly, as the Ramadan fast starts on July 8th.

Although the military has halted daytime force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees during past Ramadans, Crider says the military has not yet said what they will do during the upcoming Ramadan fast. Aside from being force-fed, some detainees have been forced to take a drug called Reglan. Reglan stops people from throwing up. Detainees are sometimes forced to take it because force-feeding makes some of them sick.

However, Reglan is not meant to be used for longer than 12 weeks. Prolonged use of the drug can give people neurological disorders similar to Parkinson's disease.

At this point, it is unclear how far the case will get. Crider says a judge may not even choose to take the case. What she does know is that the Obama administration will fight her in court if the case makes it that far.

Stimson says the issue should be left for politicians to decide. “The courts have no business trying to decide or force this issue,” he said.

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