Guantanamo

The Obama Administration Is Fighting the Release of Videos Showing The Force-Feeding of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay

If the government believes what it does at Gitmo is humane, it ought to release the videos and prove it.

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Guantanamo Bay
Public Domain

President Barack Obama is a champion of using video cameras to prevent and expose misconduct by uniformed people with guns. He is also a great believer in banning the use of torture on detainees in the war on terror. It may come as a surprise, then, to find that he doesn't want to release videos of Guantanamo inmates being force-fed.

Force-feeding of prisoners is generally recognized as a cruel practice. Obama has expressed reservations about it even as he has approved its continued use. The logic of his two positions comes right out of "Alice in Wonderland": If the images never become public, there is no evidence that he allows torture.

But the images may become public despite his preference. In October, a federal judge who has watched the videos said the government had no adequate reason to keep them secret and ordered their release. This week, the Justice Department appealed that verdict, in hopes of concealing from the American people the tender mercies accorded the hapless Guantanamo captives.

The ruling concerns a 43-year-old Syrian named Abu Wa'el Dhiab, who has been locked up without a trial since 2002. He ought to be a free man by now: Four years ago, an administration review board authorized letting him go.

But the Pentagon fears sending him back to Syria, where he was sentenced to death in absentia for alleged terrorist activities. It delayed so long on an offer by the government of Uruguay to take him that the deal collapsed. So he remains in Guantanamo and, for all he knows, may remain there forever.

His only way of protesting this unhappy fate was to go on a hunger strike. But the Defense Department doesn't take kindly to inmates being uncooperative and putting their health at risk. So he and other hunger strikers have been deprived of the choice whether to take nourishment.

Twice each day, Dhiab is strapped into a restraint chair so a tube can be forced into his nose and down his throat to allow a nutritional drink to be poured into his stomach. His lawyers say the procedure is painful and dangerous, a claim the judge rejected.

Doctors may disagree. "During my training, I placed countless feeding tubes," wrote Kent Sepkowitz, an internist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in The Daily Beast. "Without question, it is the most painful procedure doctors routinely inflict on conscious patients." He added: "The procedure is, in a word, barbaric. And that's when we are trying to be nice."

Guantanamo personnel may not try so hard. Lawyers for the inmates accuse them of inflicting unnecessary suffering to punish the recalcitrant.

In any event, the practice is impossible to justify. The UN Human Rights Commission classifies it as torture, and the World Medical Association is on record saying, "Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable."

It's not just mushy-headed foreigners who take this view. An independent panel led by former Reps. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., and James Jones, D-Okla., issued a report last year condemning the practice. "Forced feeding of detainees is a form of abuse and must end," said the group. If the administration believes the practice is humane, it ought to release the videos and prove it.

The president insists he wants to put the prison out of business. "Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," he has said. "It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed." In the meantime, though, "I don't want these individuals to die."

But if we can't find a way to discharge inmates who have been approved for transfer, that decision should be up to them. Just as medical personnel may not force lifesaving medical treatments on unwilling patients—even prisoners—they may not force sustenance on them just to keep them alive.

Even if it were appropriate to use force-feeding to prevent death, that's not actually the custom of Gitmo, where prisoners are subjected to it long before their lives are in jeopardy. But if an inmate thinks he is better off starving himself to death than facing the prospect of indefinite confinement, he might just be right.

Some Americans think Dhiab should leave the detention facility only in a pine box. If he wants to accommodate them sooner rather than later, let him.

NEXT: Glenn Reynolds: "We have in this country an issue with police being too quick to escalate force"

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  1. “Without question, it is the most painful procedure doctors routinely inflict on conscious patients.” He added: “The procedure is, in a word, barbaric. And that’s when we are trying to be nice.”

    Sounds like it’s time for another circumcision debate…

  2. I had a tube shoved up my nose and down my throat in an ER a few years back. When there’s a tube going down your throat, it engages the choke reflex. It feels like you’re being strangled from within.

    As much blood as I’d lost at the time, being choked like that was so bad, I decided I’d rather take on the orderlies if they wouldn’t let me pull the tube out.

    If they’re subjecting those inmates to being choked like that every time they eat, that’s torture. If waterboarding induces the sensation of drowning, feeding tubes induce the sensation of being choked to death.

    Just shoving the tube up your nose and down your throat is traumatic and can cause a lot of bleeding.

    If they’re leaving the tube in day after day after day–then that’s torture, too.

    There’s no way they don’t have to restrain these men during tube insertion and feeding.

  3. Who cares? let them starve to death.

    1. It’s kind of surprising that they’re bothering, is anyone actually paying attention to Gitmo anymore?

      You know, since it got closed down in January of 2009?

      1. I know, right?

        Was that before or after The Light Bringer lowered the level of the oceans? I always forget…

      2. I mean after they closed it what did the terrorist think was going to happen? we were going to just give them plane tickets to where ever? what a bunch of moochers. If they want off that beautiful island they can do it like everyone else does float to miami.

    2. Well, first of all, not everyone in there is a terrorist (probably a majority aren’t, in fact).

      But regardless, I actually agree. If somebody wants to starve themselves to death that is absolutely their right.

      1. Yeah, but think of all the bad publicity!

      2. Either way if we let them out they will become terrorists. Wouldn’t you? It’s a classic self-fulfilling prophecy.

        1. Okay, I loled. That was good.

    3. Legally, I don’t think they have the option of letting people starve to death. It’s long been the law that when the authorities take custody of someone(be that jail, prison, or even the back seat of a police car) that they become responsible for the safety, security, health, and well being of the detainee.

  4. He is also a great believer in banning the use of torture on detainees in the war on terror. It may come as a surprise, then, to find that he doesn’t want to release videos of Guantanamo inmates being force-fed.

    I’m certain it came as a surprise to Mr Steve “Vote for Obama” Chapman.

    1. Yeah, I’m going to need a citation on that first part.

      There were reports as early as 2009 that the Obama administration was using rendition to circumvent the no-torture policy. So basically rather than doing it themselves, they’d pay second-world “allies” to do it for them.

      1. I’m amazed that Chapman can muster words of criticism against the president with Obama’s dick is in his mouth.

        1. You do realize that this is written by the Steve Chapman who wrote an editorial in 2011 calling for Obama to withdraw from the presidential election, don’t you?

  5. The problem with letting prisoners starve is that it gives authorities an excuse for deaths of prisoners in detention.

    The apartheid regime famously attributed Steve Biko’s death to a hunger strike.

    Maybe call in the Red Cross to watch the hunger-strikers, offer them food, and videotape developments?

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  7. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,
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  8. Force feed them some ionizing radiation and have done with it.

  9. As a child I had need of extra nourishment. Every night for a year or so I would take one of those tubes, lube it up, and insert it myself, then go to sleep all night with the tube taped to my face.

    Mild discomfort? Sometimes
    The only time I ever found it painful was when my allergies were acting up.

    Granted, I wasn’t trying to fight it being inserted.

  10. I wonder why they are making such a fuss when the MiniTru will handle any discrepancy

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  12. I say leave them a month long supply of water, powdered milk, oatmeal, and beef jerkies in their cells and let them live and die as they please.

  13. So the thing to do is let them die?

  14. If we hadn’t force fed them, people would be complaining that we let them die.

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