What happens when a Guantanamo detainee gets force-fed

May 2, 2013
A 2007 photo shows a senior medical officer who asked to not be identified holding a feeding tube as he explains treatment of detainees who hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper)
A 2007 photo shows a senior medical officer holding a feeding tube to explain treatment of hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Dozens, perhaps as many as 100, of Guantanamo Bay's 166 detainees are  on hunger strike. It began in February as a protest against guards who had allegedly mishandled Korans during searches. But it has since escalated to a larger and nearly camp-wide demonstration against the Obama administration's failure to close the facility as promised or to free the detainees it has cleared for release.

U.S. authorities at Guantanamo have responded, in part, by force-feeding the detainees. On Thursday, the Washington Post's Peter Finn and Julie Tate, as part of a larger story on the hunger strike and its potential ramifications, report how the force-feeding works:

Twice a day at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, guards take a number of detainees from their cells, one at a time, to a camp clinic or a private room on their block.

The detainees are offered a hot meal or a liquid nutritional supplement and, if they refuse, they are strapped into a chair. A nurse then passes a tube through their noses and down into their stomachs; for one to two hours, they are fed a drip of Ensure while a Navy corpsman watches.

Last month, a Guantanamo detainee named Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel wrote a letter about his hunger strike, which was published as an op-ed in the New York Times. In it, Moqbel described what he says is his experience being force-fed:

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.

President Obama acknowledged the force-feedings at a Tuesday news  conference. When a reporter asked him why  the detainees are being force-fed, Obama responded, "Well, I don't – I don't want these individuals to die. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can."

The hunger-strikers, Finn and Tate writes, "have forced the largely forgotten issue of their indefinite detention back on to Washington’s agenda." The political, legal and diplomatic hurdles, which I wrote about previously, seem just as daunting as they were when the Obama administration first tried and failed to close the facility, but not quite insurmountable.

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