Force-feeding — Guantanamo’s shame
As President Obama has said, force-feeding detainees held without charge for more than a decade is unacceptable.
July 06, 2013|By Alka Pradhan, Kent Eiler and Katherine Hawkins
The restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike is seen at the detainee hospital in Camp Delta, which is part of the U.S. military prison for ‘enemy combatants’ in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At least 106 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention center are reported to be on hunger strike, with 45 currently being force-fed.
A recently published report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, to which we contributed, found that the practice of forced feeding at Guantanamo was “a form of abuse and must end.” A member of the task force, Dr. Gerald Thomson, described the process: “You are forced physically to eat, by being strapped into a specially made chair and having restraints put on your arms, your legs, your body and your head so that you cannot move. a tube inserted into your throat that extends into your stomach, and you’re trying to resist that with the only muscles that are free — in your throat.” Detainees have said that it is intensely painful.
When the restraint chairs were first introduced to Guantanamo in December 2005, the force-feeding process was reportedly especially punitive. Several detainees said that guards kept them in a restraint chair for hours after the tube feeding ended — sometimes for as long as six hours. The military says that the restraint chairs prevent assaults on U.S. personnel, but a detainee whose condition has deteriorated such that force-feeding is medically necessary to sustain life is unlikely to have the physical ability to commit assault.
At least two detainees were force-fed in the chair twice a day for close to four years. By 2009, the process was less prolonged and brutal, but the restraint chair was still used for every feeding regardless of a detainee’s compliance, according to an independent physician who visited Guantanamo and examined detainees. She found that the force-feeding procedure caused physical pain and psychological harm that in one case became full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder.