Guantanamo Force-Feeding Criticism Called 'Political' By Official Overseeing Process

WASHINGTON -- A military physician who oversees the nurses who force-feed Guantanamo’s hunger-striking detainees told reporters visiting the remote naval base last week that the opposition to the force-feeding process by human rights and medical groups is "political."

"It's very easy for folks outside of this place to make policies and decisions they think they would implement," the unnamed official said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

"This is kind of a tough mission and this is kind of an ugly place sometimes, all right?" the official continued. "The reality is when faced with people who are hunger-striking, potentially to the point of needing medical intervention to protect their life and to keep them from harming themselves, suddenly it's not a very abstract decision. Hunger strikes are tough and a big use of time. I realize there's a lot of controversy. But it's a political thing."

Human rights groups have criticized the practice of force-feeding, as has the American Medical Association. But the military physician said there were "lots of politics involved" in the AMA’s opposition to force-feeding as unethical.

Under Guantanamo's protocol, first published by Al Jazeera last week and sent to The Huffington Post by a military spokesman in Guantanamo, detainees being force-fed are fitted with masks and sit in restraint chairs for up to two hours twice a day as they undergo the procedure. The protocol compares procedures for handling a hunger strike to "battlefield tactics" and states that "isolating hunger striking patients from each other is vital to prevent them from achieving solidarity." In April, officials had emphasized that detainees were being kept in single cells for their own health rather than to break the strike.

As of Tuesday morning, according to a Gitmo spokesman, 103 of Guantanamo's 166 detainees were recognized as hunger strikers, with 30 being force-fed, or "receiving enteral feeds" in the language of the military.

President Barack Obama has said he will renew his effort to close the Guantanamo prison. His speech at the National Defense University on Thursday is set to address Guantanamo as well as the administration's counterterrorism policy more broadly.

Obama "will review the state of the threats we face, particularly as al Qaeda core has weakened but new dangers have emerged; he will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones; he will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; and he will frame the future of our efforts against Al Qaeda, its affiliates and adherents," a White House official told The Huffington Post of the speech.

Read the military document laying out the "standard operating procedure" for handling a hunger strike below.



Inside Guantanamo's Prison Facility