The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

As Gitmo Hunger Strike Continues, Lawyers Step Up Fight for Access

by Saadia Iqbal

As the “torturous” force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay continues, detainees’ advocates say captors are no longer just violating US and international law but also medical ethics.

Washington, DC; Oct. 31, 2005 – Attorneys representing a disputed number of inmates engaged in a months-long hunger strike at the US-run prison camp in Guantánamo Bay are slamming the Pentagon's handling of the protest. Instead of meeting the desperate demands of the more than 200 prisoners who lawyers claim have been engaged in the act of civil disobedience, the military’s response has been to deny the attorneys access to their clients’ medical records and to force-feed the striking detainees in violation of international medical standards.

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Inmates at the Guantánamo camps have intermittently engaged in hunger strikes since 2002, the year the detention center was established, but this latest protest, which began in August 2005, is the most widespread and prolonged.

Tina Foster, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a nonprofit legal organization that represents many of the detainees held at Guantánamo, told The NewStandard that the Department of Defense has "allowed the situation to become so dire that detainees are now under the impression that the only thing that will get world attention is their death."

CCR says that at least 200 prisoners have been involved in this hunger strike, but that delays in the information released from the detention center make it difficult to pinpoint the exact number.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy M. Martin, director of public affairs of the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay, said the highest number of prisoners to have taken part in the hunger strike was 131, with 26 currently still not eating. He told TNS that medical personnel at the prison are providing "enteral nutrition," or tube-feeding, to 22 of the strikers.

Prison guards took tubes from one detainee and "with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee." -- Julia Tarver

Last week, Julia Tarver, an attorney representing ten detainees at Guantánamo, obtained judicial permission to publicly release her clients’ statements. She said her clients who are currently hunger striking described the conditions under which they were force-fed as "torture." They said their captors physically restrained them from head to toe and forcibly shoved large tubes up their noses and down into their stomachs without providing anesthesia or sedative. According to Tarver’s statement, the detainees said they vomited blood as a result of the force-feeding.

According to Tarver’s notes, in the presence of Guantánamo physicians, prison guards took tubes from one detainee and "with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee. When these tubes were reinserted, the detainees could see the blood and stomach bile from other detainees remaining on the tubes."

In her statement, Tarver added, "Detainees complying with the nasal tube-feeding were doing so only because they believed it had been ordered by a US court – a belief that is simply untrue."

In fact, in a Wednesday ruling that resulted from an emergency petition by attorneys of Guantánamo detainees, US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ordered that the government inform counsel at least 24 hours before force-feeding inmates.

Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. -- World Medical Association

Lt. Col. Martin denies that the captives are being abused. "Detainees are treated humanely and are provided with excellent medical care," he said. "Prevention of unnecessary loss of life of detainees through standard medical intervention – including involuntary medical nutrition and hydration to overcome a detainee’s desire to harm themselves, using means that are clinically appropriate – is consistent with [Department of Defense] policy."

He also said the hunger-strike tactic is "consistent with Al-Qaeda training [techniques] and reflects the detainees’ attempts to elicit media attention and bring pressure on the United States government."

But Foster said the inmates had every reason to object to their conditions. "They have a very valid point," she said. "Prisoners are being treated like animals there. They are protesting… the fact that they have been denied access to justice since their incarceration four years ago."

Foster added that the detainees had no spiritual guidance or communication with the outside world. "These are people who have been subject to severe psychological and physical abuse since the last four years," she said. "They are making these decisions in a vacuum."

Simon Schorno, press spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross said ICRC representatives had visited the camp two weeks ago in relation to the hunger strike. "We don’t comment publicly on the findings," he said, adding that the Red Cross does have an ongoing relationship with the US government over the broader issue of the detention facility.

"ICRC, as an independent and neutral organization," Schorno added, "explains to the detainees what the medical consequences of their actions are and shares with authorities its position on force feeding, which is prohibited according to the World Medical Association guidelines."

The American Medical Association’s stance on force-feeding is in keeping with international standards. AMA representatives visited the Guantánamo Bay facility on October 19.

Audiey Kao, vice president of the AMA Ethics Group, told The NewStandard in a written statement that her organization was unable to assess the quality of treatment the striking detainees are receiving because the AMA was denied access to the prisoners. But Kao said the AMA has shared its position on feeding individuals against their will with US military officials. Specifically, Kao said, the AMA endorses the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo, which states:

Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. The decision as to the capacity of the prisoner to form such a judgment should be confirmed by at least one other independent physician. The consequences of the refusal of nourishment shall be explained by the physician to the prisoner.

Foster of the CCR said the US has other ways to prevent the prisoners from dying, other than force-feeding. "There are so many things that could have been done until now," she said, "such as giving them access to their families, at least via telephone."

Attorneys with CCR call it ironic that the detainees are going to such desperate lengths to demand fair hearings and the ability to challenge the conditions of confinement, given that the Supreme Court has already afforded the rights they are now seeking through protest. In June 2004, the Court upheld the detainees’ right to have their cases heard in US civilian courts. The Bush administration has sought to block most such attempts since, in cases that are making their way back up to the Supreme Court.

Tomorrow, CCR lawyers, in collaboration with other organizations, will participate in a one-day solidarity fast to protest their clients’ treatment. The fast falls within Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The groups will also hold vigils in Washington, DC and New York City to protest the captives’ conditions and demand that prisoners of the US "war on terror" receive humane treatment and access to fair hearings.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Saadia Iqbal is a contributing journalist.

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