Today, at 11 am Eastern time (4 pm GMT), lawyers for three prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay — including the last British resident, Shaker Aamer — will ask the appeals court in Washington D.C. to order the government to end the force-feeding of prisoners, denounced by the World Medical Association and the UN, in which, as the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, “a detainee is shackled to a specially-made restraint chair and a tube is forced into his nostril, down his oesophagus, and through to his stomach.”
At the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo this year, 46 men were being force-fed. That total has now fallen to 15, but twice a day those 15 men are tied into restraint chairs, while liquid nutrient is pumped into their stomachs via a tube inserted through their nose.
As well as Shaker Aamer, the other petitioners in the appeal are Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian. All three were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, and are represented by Reprieve and Jon B. Eisenberg.
In July, Judge Gladys Kessler, ruling on the motion submitted by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, — which, nevertheless, she turned down because of a legal precedent involving Guantánamo and force-feeding — described force-feeding as “painful, humiliating, and degrading.” She pointed out that Abu Wa’el Dhiab had “set out in great detail in his papers what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment,” and also explained that “the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority — and power — to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay.”
Judge Rosemary Collyer, who ruled against the motion submitted by Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab (who has since been released), was less sympathetic, but Reprieve and Jon B. Eisenberg argue in the appeal (available here) that, although the government “has attempted to argue that the issue does not lie within the court’s jurisdiction,” this is wrong, because the force-feeding that is taking place is a “deprivation of substantial rights,” and “a seizure of [the detainee’s] internal organs through the forcible invasion of his gastro-intestinal tract.”
Furthermore, in response to the government’s claim that force-feeding is “humane,” the appeal notes that the Ninth Circuit court in California “recently upheld California’s legislative ban on force-feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras, deeming the ban to be a lawful pursuit of the state’s ‘interest in preventing animal cruelty.” The lawyers for the men in Guantánamo note, “The irony of protecting ducks and geese from a practice that is inflicted on human beings at Guantánamo Bay speaks volumes.”
As Reprieve described it, the appeal also “argues that the detainees were denied their right to religious free exercise because authorities at the prison deprived them of the ability to conduct communal prayer unless they stopped hunger striking.”
While the appeal is being heard, Andrés Conteris, an activist with the campaigning group Witness Against Torture, will be force-fed on the steps of the court.
Conteris is on the 103rd day of a fast which he began on on July 8 to protest about the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners not only in Guantánamo, but also in Pelican Bay Prison in California, where prisoners are held in horrendous long-term isolation in the notorious Secure Housing Units (SHUs) and are challenging the system through regular hunger strikes.
Conteris, who has lost 57 pounds since his fast began, says, “Force-feeding is torture. I wish to make visible what the US government is perpetrating against prisoners in Guantánamo and to remind the world that indefinite detention continues.” The 52-year old activist has been force-fed at the White House, in Oakland, California, and at US embassies in Uruguay and Argentina. He describes it as follows: “The nasal tube feeding feels like endless agony. It feels like I’m drowning.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
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When I posted a link to this on Facebook, I wrote:
For Palina Prasasouk, Jeremy Varon, Matthew W. Daloisio. I hope the media are paying attention. My congratulations to Andres for his dedication to fasting and drawing attention to the pain of force-feeding.
Palina Prasasouk wrote:
Daniel Renwick wrote:
Hey, I have pitched this story to my newsroom and we are very much up for filming this, particularly Andres’ protest.
Thanks, Palina and Daniel. I see the AP reported it: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/18/force-feeding-gitmo-detainees/3009163/
From the article:
The case attracted a standing-room only crowd, including several people who later participated in a protest on the courthouse steps. At the protest, which included members of groups such as Witness Against Torture and Code Pink, some people wore orange prison jumpsuits and black hoods. Andres Thomas Conteris, an activist who organizers said was on day 103 of a water-only fast, was force-fed though his nose, yelling out, “Every swallow is torture! I feel like vomiting! Please, President Obama, stop force-feeding now!”
Rachel Raub wrote:
I still remember the moment when George Bush got on TV and declared torture to be okay. I am sure we had tortured in all conflicts, but for the President to sanction it changed everything to me. Now, as we have become a police state, we have seen the fruit of his words. Sad.
Thanks for the poignant and powerful memories, Rachel. It is indeed horrible how crimes committed by the most senior figures in the Bush administration have been normalized through a collective refusal – in the Obama administration, Congress, the courts and the media – to hold the criminals responsible accountable for their crimes, or to call repeatedly for them to be held accountable.
Palina Prasasouk wrote:
Fred Frommer of the AP has been covering the case since June, when it was first filed. He even stuck around for the tube-feeding. HuffPo and RT were also there for American press.
Palina Prasasouk wrote:
Thanks, Palina. Good to hear about the AP’s ongoing interest.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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