[Ppnews] Force feeding at Guantanamo is now acknowledged

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 22 14:46:33 EST 2006

Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Is Now Acknowledged

Published: February 22, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 — The military commander 
responsible for the American detention center at 
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, confirmed Tuesday that 
officials there last month turned to more 
aggressive methods to deter prisoners who were 
carrying out long-term hunger strikes to protest their incarceration.

The commander, Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, head of 
the United States Southern Command, said soldiers 
at Guantánamo began strapping some of the 
detainees into "restraint chairs" to force-feed 
them and isolate them from one another after 
finding that some were deliberately vomiting or 
siphoning out the liquid they had been fed.

"It was causing problems because some of these 
hard-core guys were getting worse," General 
Craddock said at a breakfast meeting with 
reporters. Explaining the use of the restraint 
chairs, he added, "The way around that is you 
have to make sure that purging doesn't happen."

After The New York Times reported Feb. 9 that the 
military had begun using restraint chairs and 
other harsh methods, military spokesmen insisted 
that the procedures for dealing with the hunger 
strikes at Guantánamo had not changed. They also 
said they could not confirm that the chairs had been used.

On Tuesday, General Craddock said he had reviewed 
the use of the restraint chairs, as had senior 
officials at the Department of Defense, and they 
concluded that the practice was "not inhumane." 
General Craddock left no doubt, however, that 
commanders had decided to try to make life less 
comfortable for the hunger strikers, and that the 
measures were seen as successful.

"Pretty soon it wasn't convenient, and they 
decided it wasn't worth it," he said of the 
hunger strikers. "A lot of the detainees said: 'I 
don't want to put up with this. This is too much of a hassle.' "

A spokesman for the Southern Command, Lt. Col. 
James Marshall, said that restraint chairs had 
been used in the feeding of 35 of the detainees 
so far, and that 3 were still being fed that way. 
He said the number of prisoners refusing to eat 
had fallen from 41 on Dec. 15 — when the 
restraint chairs were first used on a trial basis 
— to 5, according to a military spokesman.

Military officials have said the tough measures 
were necessary to keep detainees from dying. But 
while many of the strikers lost between 15 and 20 
percent of their normal body weight, only a few 
were thought to be in immediate medical danger, 
two officers familiar with the strike said.

Lawyers for the detainees and several human 
rights groups have assailed the new methods used 
against the hunger strikers as inhumane, and as 
unjustified by the reported medical condition of the prisoners.

According to newly declassified interview notes, 
several detainees who had been on hunger strikes 
told their lawyers during visits late last month 
that the military had begun using harsher methods 
more widely in the second week of January. One 
Yemeni detainee, Emad Hassan, described the chair 
to lawyers in interviews on Jan. 24 and 25.

"The head is immobilized by a strap so it can't 
be moved, their hands are cuffed to the chair and 
the legs are shackled," the notes quote Mr. 
Hassan as saying. "They ask, 'Are you going to 
eat or not?' and if not, they insert the tube. 
People have been urinating and defecating on 
themselves in these feedings and vomiting and 
bleeding. They ask to be allowed to go to the 
bathroom, but they will not let them go. They 
have sometimes put diapers on them."

Another former hunger striker, Isa al-Murbati of 
Bahrain, described a similar experience to his 
lawyer, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, in an interview on Jan. 28.

On Jan. 10, he said, a lieutenant came to his 
isolation cell and told him that if he did not 
agree to eat solid food, he would be strapped 
into the chair and force-fed. After he refused to 
comply, he said, soldiers picked him up by the 
throat, threw him to the floor and strapped him to the restraint chair.

Like Mr. Hassan, Mr. Murbati said he had been fed 
two large bags of liquid formula, which were 
forced into his stomach very quickly. "He felt 
pain like a 'knife in the stomach' " Mr. Colangelo-Bryan said.

Detainees said the Guantánamo medical staff also 
began inserting and removing the long plastic 
feeding tubes that were threaded through the 
detainees' nasal passages and into their stomachs 
at every feeding, a practice that caused sharp 
pain and frequent bleeding, they said. Until 
then, doctors there said, they had been allowing 
the hunger strikers to leave their feeding tubes in, to reduce discomfort.

Military spokesmen have generally discounted the 
complaints, saying the prisoners are for the most 
part terrorists, trained by Al Qaeda to use false stories as propaganda.

In a letter to a British physician and human 
rights activist, Dr. David J. Nicholl, on Dec. 
12, the former chief medical officer at 
Guantánamo, Capt. John S. Edmondson of the Navy, 
wrote that his staff was not force-feeding any 
detainees but "providing nutritional 
supplementation on a voluntary basis to detainees 
who wish to protest their confinement by not taking oral nourishment."

General Craddock suggested that the medical staff 
had indulged the hunger strikers to the point 
that they had been allowed to choose the color of their feeding tubes.

Two other Defense Department officials said a 
decision had been made to try to break the hunger 
strikes because they were having a disruptive 
effect and causing stress for the medical staff.

That effort was stepped up, one official said, in 
January, when Captain Edmondson left Guantánamo 
for a new post after receiving a Legion of Merit 
Medal for "inspiring leadership and exemplary performance."

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington for this 
article, and Tim Golden from New York.

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