Force-feeding Must Stop at Guantanamo

More than 11 years after the U.S. government transported the first prisoners from Afghanistan to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, and four years after President Obama signed an executive order promising to close the prison within a year, it remains open. The president has said he wants to close it, an envoy has been appointed to manage its closure, and last week, the president announced that two Algerian detainees will be transferred back to Algeria, but the detention center remains an open moral wound, a symbol of the violation of our nation's deepest values.

Guantanamo represents a place where the United States broke faith with itself and used torture as an interrogation technique. It is a place where the moral wound of indefinite detention continues to cause immense pain and harm. The vast majority of the 166 people held in Guantanamo have never been tried, convicted or even charged with a crime. More than half of them have been cleared for release or have been approved for transfer.

Indefinite detention is not only harmful to the detainees themselves, it also diminishes the moral leadership of our nation, compromises our commitment to the rule of law, and undermines our struggle against terrorism.

The human tragedy at Guantanamo continues. Dozens of the detainees have joined a hunger strike to communicate their frustration, desperation, hopelessness, and mental and physical pain in response to what they can only perceive to be President Obama having abandoned efforts to close the detention facility. Shockingly, 86 of the detainees have already been cleared for transfer or release -- and yet, they remain in detention.

The U.S. government has responded to the hunger strike by force-feeding detainees -- a painful practice that preserves life, but at the cost of the prisoner's ability to make decisions about his or her own body. The procedure often involves shackling and strapping down the detainee as a tube is inserted through the nose into the stomach.

The International Committee of the Red Cross states its opposition to force-feeding in its 2006 revision of the Declaration of Malta of the World Medical Association, which reads:

"Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the forced feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting."

Based on American Medical Association policy, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the AMA, wrote in an April 25, 2013, letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, "Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions."

Recognizing that every religion affirms the innate dignity and worth of every human being, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture opposes the force-feeding of all mentally competent prisoners who are capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of their refusing life-sustaining nourishment or other medical intervention.

Independent medical professionals should be allowed to evaluate the mental and physical status of hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo to determine whether force-feeding is medically appropriate. If medical professionals determine that a detainee is not mentally competent and feeding intervention is medically necessary, force-feeding is permissible. However, medical intervention should be focused on restoring those prisoners to their full mental faculties so that they can then make competent decisions about their medical treatment.

The root cause of the Guantanamo hunger strike is the continued detention of well over 100 prisoners without charge or trial. Now is the time for President Obama to transfer or release these detainees. The current crisis will be resolved only by transferring, releasing, or trying all the prisoners held at Guantanamo and finally ending this chapter in U.S. history.