WASHINGTON -- An appeals court panel in D.C. on Friday weighed whether it could or should end the force-feeding of detainees being held at military facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The dispute focused over whether or not authorities at the detention facility were force-feeding detainees earlier than necessary to ensure their survival. Jon Eisenberg, representing several Guantanamo detainees, said that his clients were being fed before it was medically necessary and that force-feeding "perpetuates indefinite detention." Though he admitted he was asking the panel to allow something to happen that could ultimately result in death, he said it was the constitutional right of detainees to engage in a hunger strike.
"I believe the Guantanamo Bay authorities have jumped the gun, force-feeding those men before their lives are at risk," Eisenberg said. He added that he believed all force-feeding was unconstitutional, but that he was offering the appeals court panel a "middle ground."
Justice Department lawyer Daniel Lenerz, representing the government, said that military authorities were only force-feeding detainees when it was necessary to keep them alive and healthy. Lenerz said that force-feeding, which he referred to as only "enteral feeding," should be allowed because hunger strikes were disrupting the operation of the detention facilities.
"Is that your trump card, as long as you use that, it's the end of your inquiry?" asked Judge Thomas Beall Griffith, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
Eisenberg, meanwhile, said the unique circumstances in Guantanamo made it difficult for him to disprove the claim that the hunger strikes are having a destabilizing effect on operations there.
"How do I prove what's going on in Guantanamo Bay? I have no idea," he said.
The hunger strike at Guantanamo began earlier this year and at one point involved over 100 detainees. Military authorities have stopped proactively releasing hunger strike counts, but the number had fallen to 15 as of Thursday, according to The Miami Herald.
After the hearing, anti-Guantanamo protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse to watch activist Andrés Thomas Conteris be force-fed. Conteris underwent the same procedure in front of the White House last month.