[Ppnews] Guantánamo Is Not an Anomaly — Prisoners in the US Are Force-Fed Every Day

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 7 10:55:43 EDT 2013

  Guantánamo Is Not an Anomaly — Prisoners in the US Are Force-Fed Every Day

Ann Neumann

May 6, 2013

I know a hunger-striking prisoner who hasn’t eaten solid food in more 
than five years. He is being force-fed by the medical staff where he’s 
incarcerated. Starving himself, he told me during one of our biweekly 
phone calls last year, is the only way he has to exercise his first 
amendment rights and to protest his conviction. Not eating is his only 
available free speech act.

The prisoner has lost half his body weight and four teeth to 
malnutrition. He and his lawyer have gone to court to stop the 
force-feedings, but a judge ruled against him in March. If I asked you 
to guess where Coleman is being held, you’d likely say Guantánamo — 
“America’s offshore war-on-terror camp 
— where a mass hunger strike of 100 prisoners has brought the ethics of 
force-feeding to American newspapers, if not American consciences. 
Twenty-five of those prisoners are now being manually fed with tubes.

But William Coleman is not at Guantánamo. He’s in Connecticut. The 
prison medical staff force-feeding him are on contract from the 
University of Connecticut, not the U.S. Navy. Guantánamo is not an 
anomaly. Prisoners — who are on U.S. soil and not an inaccessible island 
military base — are routinely and systematically force-fed every day.

The accounts of force-feeding coming out of Guantánamo, including Samir 
Naji al Hasan Moqbel’s “Gitmo is Killing Me 
in /The New York Times/ two weeks ago, are consistent with how Coleman 
has described the process to me — and to the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

On Oct. 23, 2008, medical staff and corrections officers first strapped 
Coleman at four points to a vinyl medical table and snaked a rubber tube 
up his nose, down his throat and into his stomach. When the tube kinked, 
they thought his reaction to the pain was resistance and tied him across 
the chest with mesh straps. They reinserted the tube and Coleman gagged 
as they drained Ensure, a nutrient drink, into it. He continued to gag. 
He bled. He vomited. He felt violated, not medically treated. Coleman is 
still being force-fed; sometimes the staff put a semi-permanent tube up 
his nose, sometimes they don’t. They no longer strap him down. He knows 
the staff. They are, he says, following orders.

The fact that force feedings are being discussed in the context of 
Guantánamo is dangerously misleading; it obscures the routine use of 
feeding tubes in American prisons. Other recent feeding tube cases have 
taken place in Washington state, Utah, Illinois and Wisconsin — all 
prisoners who had the resources to contest their treatment in court. No 
sweeping study of force-feeding has been done, so statistics on usage 
don’t exist. Only three states have laws against force-feeding 
prisoners: Florida, Georgia and California, where a hunger strike in 
2011 at a facility in Pelican Bay effectively caused a court examination 
of prison conditions. Just this week Leroy Dorsey, who sued New York 
state to have his force-feedings stopped, lost his case 
“Force-feeding order did not violate inmate’s rights,” the Reuters 
headline reads.

No matter where force-feedings take place, whether in Guantánamo or 
Connecticut, they are considered torture by most of the world’s medical 
and governing bodies. As U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert 
Coville said this week 
about tube usage, “If it’s perceived as torture or inhuman treatment — 
and it’s the case, it’s painful — then it is prohibited by international 
law.” At /The Daily Beast/, Kent Sepkowitz 
a doctor, writes, “Without question, [force-feeding] is the most painful 
procedure doctors routinely inflict on conscious patients,” and calls it 

In 2005, when 142 Guantánamo detainees stopped eating, their subsequent 
force-feedings caused 263 international doctors to write an open letter 
in the medical journal /The Lancet/ 
that denounced the practice and called on doctors to stop participating. 
They wrote, “Physicians do not have to agree with the prisoner, but they 
must respect their informed decision.”

To little effect, the American Medical Association condemned 
the force feedings in 2005, 2009 and again last week, saying that “every 
competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, 
including life-sustaining interventions.”

Yet most media outlets continue to portray feeding tube use as a 
“complex ethical debate.” It’s not. Competent prisoners go on hunger 
strike because they have something to say and no other way to say it. 
Prison officials choose not to hear — and silence them with tubes. In 
court documents, wardens cite two primary concerns: the health of the 
prisoner, whose well-being they are responsible for (and for whose 
“suicide” they could be blamed); and prison order, including disruption 
of facility routine, copycat hunger strikers, and low morale among 
corrections officers and staff.

According to Mara Silver, who wrote about prison hunger strikes for 
/Stanford Law Review/ in 2005 
there is scant evidence that hunger strikers disrupt prison order. In 
fact, she notes, wardens often aren’t required to show proof when 
challenged. Consistently, routinely, wardens are deferred to in these cases.

Last week /The Chicago Tribune/ reported 
that President Obama, who has not yet fulfilled a campaign promise to 
close Guantánamo, had courts on his side:

    Most U.S. judges who have examined forced feeding in prisons have
    concluded that the measure may violate the rights of inmates to
    control their own bodies and to privacy — rights rooted in the U.S.
    Constitution and in common law. But they have found that the needs
    of operating a prison are more important.

Prisoners’ rights activists have long acknowledged courts’ reluctance to 
reconsider application of common law and constitutional rights to those 
inside. This status quo works so long as it is supported by public 
opinion — or public ignorance of the practice.

Hunger strikes have the power to change public opinion. This might be 
why the warden of Coleman’s prison has refused my request for a visit — 
and that of any other journalist. As the warden put it in a brief 
letter, they think my presence might “exacerbate” the inmate’s condition 
or “contribute to his detriment.” Or, perhaps, bring attention to 
Coleman’s case. So long as force-feeding is considered an exceptional 
practice, applied to less than two dozen men from foreign countries, and 
on foreign soil, the public and the medical community can remain 
ignorant of the torture within our growing domestic prison industry.

For an article on William Coleman 
<http://www.guernicamag.com/features/the-longest-hunger-strike/> that 
appeared in /Guernica/ magazine in January, I spoke with American 
bioethicist Jacob Appel, who has written extensively about Coleman 
<http://paq.press.illinois.edu/26/4/appel.html> and feeding-tube usage 
in U.S. prisons. The public discourse about Guantánamo, Appel told me, 
had falsely assumed that torture and abuse are an exception rather than 
the general rule. Guantánamo, he said, “was presented as … an 
extraordinary set of circumstances, not an outflow of American law.”

Ann Neumann is editor of /The Revealer/, a publication of the Center for 
Religion and Media at New York University. She has written for 
/Guernica/ magazine, /The Nation/ and the /New York Law Review/, and has 
appeared on Voice of America, NY-1 News and WBAI. She teaches journalism 
at Drew University. Neumann blogs about religion and dying at 
otherspoon.blogspot.com <http://otherspoon.blogspot.com>.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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