A Minnesota doctor testified Tuesday that officials at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were abusive in the way they force-fed a hunger striking detainee, sometimes ordering the feedings when they weren’t necessary and using methods that run counter to accepted medical standards.
The doctor, Steven Miles from the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, is the third to testify publicly in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian detainee who is challenging the manner of his feedings. Miles seemed to go further than those who spoke before him in asserting the practices used to feed Dhiab were inappropriate.
“This is an abuse of a prisoner,” he said.
It is not disputed that officials can force-feed Dhiab, who has been in custody since 2002 and has engaged in hunger strikes periodically for seven years. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered as much in May.
But Dhiab, who was cleared for transfer from the prison in 2009, now wants Kessler to change how and when those feedings can take place. Dhiab wants a doctor — not prison officials — to determine when the feedings are necessary. He wants to be able to go to the sessions in a wheelchair. He wants fewer restraints used. And he wants the tube that is inserted in his nose to be left in for days, rather than taken out after each feeding.
Miles testified that many of the techniques prison officials have used to feed Dhiab run counter to accepted medical practices, and he said they seem to be using the feedings to punish the detainee for his hunger strikes.
For their part, government attorneys on Tuesday began building the case that Dhiab was fed only to save his life, and the decision to feed him was a medical one. They showed the judge prison policies mandate medical officials’ involvement in force feeding decisions, although they acknowledged formal approval rests with the jail commander. They also showed evidence that Dhiab had resisted medical testing and often declined to eat or be fed voluntarily.
Justice Department attorneys have argued previously at the hearing that Kessler should not take the dramatic step of modifying all the medical practices at Guantanamo. They have noted Dhiab, whose attorney said Tuesday once ran a restaurant, had assaulted and thrown feces and urine at prison guards.
Miles said his analysis of limited data seem to indicate Dhiab was being force-fed when it was not nutritionally necessary. And for a time, Miles said, officials were using olive oil as a lubricant — a practice that made it more likely that Dhiab might become ill with a form of pneumonia.
“It’s astonishing to me that olive oil was used as a lubricant,” Miles testified.
Miles said he also would rather prison officials leave the feeding tube in rather than take it out and reinsert with each use.
On Tuesday, Kessler seemed at least somewhat sympathetic to the government’s case. She asked Miles how, in a place filled with “angry, confrontational” detainees, prison officials could be expected to provide the kind of individualized care he was suggesting for Dhiab.
“Can any large institution provide individualized treatment to the people who are locked in that institution?” Kessler asked.
Miles acknowledged Guantanamo had unique challenges but said in Dhiab’s case, they needed to make what he viewed as routine adjustments.
The hearing is set to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday.