To respect those observing Ramadan in Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. government is now adapting its force-feeding schedule to comply with Islamic tradition. For a month, the men will no longer be forced to receive food through their noses during daytime hours. Oh, to be sensitive of detainees' needs and break international law all at once! Who said we couldn't be the world's more caring captor?
Many Islamic leaders are asking the U.S. to stop force-feedings during Ramadan based on religious principle. Ramadan is a month of fasting. But the humanitarian issues behind the practice are also on everyone's mind. Guantanamo’s hunger strike began in 2005, but entered a new wave in 2013. Of the prison's 166 detainees, 120 prisoners are on the hunger strike. Forty-four of those men are being force-fed. The men are protesting their treatment, lack of trial, and seemingly indefinite imprisonment.
(Perhaps the most strange concept to grasp about Guantanamo's prison population is that about half the detainees were cleared for release years ago, yet remain detained.)
Guantanamo spokesperson Navy Captain Robert Durand called the practice a “preservation of life.” But it seems that all except those involved in Guantanamo believe these procedures are cruel and unusual punishment.
On Monday, rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) released a graphic video demonstrating Guantanamo’s force-feeding operating procedure. After Bey’s wrists and ankles were shackled, he seated himself. Medical personnel then strapped his arms and head to the chair, measured his feeding tube, and began to insert the tube into his right nostril. Bey’s response is sickening to watch. He cries, then cries out, squirms, and fights the medical professionals who then restrain him. The pain becomes so unbearable that Bey refuses to complete the procedure.
The most telling revelation of the video actually comes from the medical professionals. Even though Bey grunts and squirms in distress, yelling “Stop, stop, please!” they don’t let up, meaning that his response is nothing out of the ordinary. Pleas for help and emotional direst are natural bodily responses to being force fed while conscious. They only stop when Bey makes it clear he can no longer play the role of prisoner. “This is me," he yells. "I said stop.”
"I didn't really know what to expect," Bey explained after the procedure. "The tube went in and the first part of it is not that bad but then you get this burning. I got this burning. And it starts to be really unbearable like something was going into my brain and it started reaching the back of my throat and I really couldn't take it.”
Many have called for the U.S. to end this practice. The United Nations human rights office condemned Guantanamo's force-feeding, calling it “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” which violated the UN Convention on Human Rights (to which the United States is a signatory). Amnesty International took the same stance.
Terry Holdbrooks Jr., a former Guantanamo guard who converted to Islam after admiring detainees’ religious fortitude, said the camp “tramples on every human right the U.S. has said it supports.” Before Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he held the same opinion. On August 10, 2007, he said, “As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.”
Yet that was all talk. Eight years later Guantanamo is still open. And over the years, Obama’s rhetoric has become gradually more accepting of the prison’s existence. In 2013, he stated again his interested in closing the prison, but there have been no changes still.
Of the 166 inmates in Guantanamo ...
-86 have been cleared for release already.
-47 are considered "too dangerous for release but are not facing prosecution"
-24 others are considered "eligible for prosecution"
-9 have been "charged with a crime or convicted"
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