WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Wednesday urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reconsider force-feeding hunger strikers at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Feinstein wrote in a letter to Hagel that after giving the hunger strikes "a great deal of thought" following her visit to the naval base on June 7 with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, she believes the force-feeding "stands in conflict with international norms."
"Hunger strikes are a long-known form of non-violent protest aimed at bringing attention to a cause, rather than an attempt of suicide," Feinstein wrote. "I believe that the current approach raises very important ethical questions and complicates the difficult situation regarding the continued indefinite detention at Guantanamo. I urge you to reevaluate the force-feeding policies at Guantanamo Bay and to put in place the most humane policies possible."
Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, cited criticism from international and U.N. organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Medical Association. She noted that force-feeding in U.S. federal prisons is "exceedingly rare," and that Intelligence Committee staff members have told her that no federal inmate has been force-fed in the last six months.
More than 100 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are currently on hunger strike. Some began striking as early as five months ago, and almost half of the hunger strikers have received "enteral feeding," with a tube inserted through their nostrils and down their throats to liquid nutritional supplements.
Following their trip earlier this month, Feinstein and McCain reiterated their support for closing the prison and relocating the detainees to other maximum-security prisons. A spokesman for McCain did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the Arizona senator also believes the force-feeding should end.
President Barack Obama has pushed Congress to shut down Guantanamo and expressed concern for the hunger strikers in an April press conference.
"I don't want these individuals to die," Obama said. "Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?"
The renewed pleas to close Guantanamo have done little, however, to sway Congress. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a Republican amendment, on a mostly party-line vote, that would bar the the transfer to Yemen of any of the roughly 56 prisoners cleared by military and intelligence officials. A competing amendment that would establish a plan to close the facility, introduced by a Democrat, failed.
Read Feinstein's full letter here:
Dianne Feinstein Letter On Guantanamo Force-Feeding