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Hullabaloo


Sunday, June 02, 2013

 
Yes, force-feeding is torture

by digby

Joe Nocera wrote a great column the other day that deserves wider circulation. He is rightfully exercised at the torture going on in Guantanamo:
Fundamentally, hunger strikes are a form of speech for prisoners who have no other way to communicate their concerns. Hunger strikes give them the means to protest their confinement and to send a message about that confinement. During the “troubles” in Ireland, for instance, Irish Republican Army prisoners went on hunger strikes to protest their detention by the British — and some ended up being force-fed.

For decades, the international community, including the International Red Cross, the World Medical Association and the United Nations, have recognized the right of prisoners of sound mind to go on a hunger strike. Force-feeding has been labeled a violation on the ban of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The World Medical Association holds that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in force-feeding. Put simply, force-feeding violates international law.

Whatever triggered the hunger strike at Guantánamo — the detainees say that the military had begun searching their Korans and instituted a series of harsh new measures, which the military denies — the underlying issue is that the detainees are in despair of ever getting out.
I think that's a fair assumption, don't you? What, exactly, are these people supposed to do? Simply accept that fact that they exist in a no-man's land in which they are imprisoned indefinitely for no good reason by the most powerful nation on earth? It's barbaric. Of course that's why they're starving themselves.

And there is simply no doubt that this force-feeding is a form of torture. None:
The military claims that it is force-feeding the detainees in order to keep them safe and alive. According to The Miami Herald, about one-third of the detainees on strike — at least 35 men, though possibly more — are being force-fed. A handful are in the hospital.

But not long ago, Al Jazeera got ahold of a 30-page document that detailed the standard operating procedures used by the military to force-feed a detainee. The document makes for gruesome reading: the detainee shackled to a special chair (which looks like the electric chair); the head restraints if he resists; the tube pushed painfully down his nose; the half-hour or so of ingestion of nutritional supplements; the transfer of the detainee to a “dry cell,” where, if he vomits, he is strapped back into the chair until the food is digested.

Detainees are also apparently given an anti-nausea drug called Reglan, which has a horrible potential side effect if given for more than three months: a disease called tardive dyskinesia, which causes twitching and other uncontrollable movements. “This drug is very scary,” said Cori Crider, the legal director of Reprieve, a London-based group that represents more than a dozen detainees. “My fear is that it is being administered without their consent,” she added. Although the military refuses to discuss the use of Reglan — or any aspect of force-feeding — that’s a pretty safe bet.
And anyway, the courts will sort all this out eventually, right? So, it's no biggie if these desperate men are "kept safe and alive" by torturing them.

All the international human rights organizations agree that this is torture, by the way:
Even before the force-feeding procedures were leaked, international organizations were protesting the practice. The United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement in early May calling the continued detention in Guantánamo a “flagrant violation of international human rights law” and categorizing the force-feeding at the prison as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” Dr. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who has done a great deal of research into the practice of force-feeding, said: “The persistence of the military’s force-feeding policy in the face of international law, and the manner in which it is done, constitutes torture.”
Nocera makes a point about all this that I don't think most people are willing to make. This is not something that is subject to the usual legislative constraints:
Without question, any effort [President Obama] might make to shut down the prison would be met with resistance in Congress; it’s already begun. But the practice of force-feeding detainees, which virtually every international body condemns as a violation of international law — and which they decry as cruel and inhuman? He could stop that in a heartbeat, with one call to the Pentagon.

After all, he is the commander in chief.
That's right. He could order it to stop. I imagine he doesn't want to do this for fear of "martyring" these prisoners should they die. But at this point, he is just being cruel. The torture will them martyr them anyway. At least let them have the basic human dignity of being allowed to make their protest.

Guantanamo may be one of America's most irrational policies ever and we've had some doozies. It's as irrational as the Spanish Inquisition in its own way, sick and twisted inside out from one bad decision building on another. This force-feeding torture is right up there with the worst of them.

President Obama needs to take control of this situation. At the moment he is in great danger of being remembered as a "torture president" right up there with George W. Bush. The irony of him also being a Nobel Peace Prize winner is almost too much to bear.

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