California prison officials have been struggling with prisoners on a hunger strike, which began on July 7. 130 inmates continue to participate. They are protesting the use of solitary confinement as punishment. As a result of the strike, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco has permitted prison officials to force-feed the prisoners involved in the strike. This ruling may result in actions painfully similar to the torture tactics used in Guantanamo Bay, what the Physicians for Human Rights deem “degrading and inhumane” as it goes against the do-not-resuscitate directives signed by the prisoner.
Prison officials say they will only be implementing this tactic if the prisoners are unable to make decisions for themselves and are dangerously close to death. There are approximately 45 prisoners about to reach “crisis mode,” and this ruling may be applied to them. While it may seem that prison officials are looking out for the prisoners' best interest, their actions are human rights abuses because they suppress the prisoners' ability to protest.
Dr. Steven Tharratt, director of medical services for California’s prisons, said, “It doesn’t evoke images of Guantanamo Bay or anything like that. It’s actually a totally different setting.” That’s comforting. According to Tharratt, it is "most likely" to be done by pumping nutrient-rich fluids into the bloodstream versus forcing feeding tubes through the prisoner’s nostrils, which typically happens in Guantanamo Bay. Why would force-feeding prisoners in California’s prisons be any different? In reality, it’s not.
President Obama condemned force-feeding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in his speech on national security in May. He said, "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. ... Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."
Force-feeding prisoners is a violation of human rights. The act of refusing food is a non-violent way of protest when one has nothing but his or her body to give. Force-feeding eliminates one's ability to fight for his or her humanity. Prisoners in California are protesting the use of solitary confinement as punishment. If the prisons are already violating human rights by using solitary confinement, how can we trust them to use a tactic that deemed unethical and inhumane by every health organization in the world? We can’t.