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Gitmo Prisoners Can Sue US Over 'Gratuitously Torturous' Force-Feeding

In mixed decision, US appeals court rules force-feeding can continue, but not without legal challenge from detainees

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Tools used to force-feed hunger strikers at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 7, 2013. (AFP Photo) Men indefinitely detained within the walls of the Guantanamo Bay prison will now be able to legally challenge the practice of force-feeding, considered by international human rights organizations to be a form of torture, following a mixed ruling in a federal appeals court Tuesday.

The judges ruled 2-1 that the Federal District Court has jurisdiction over the techniques used to force-feed Guantanamo detainees, meaning the U.S. government may be subject to lawsuits from any of the remaining 155 Guantanamo inmates on the subject of force-feeding.

According to lawyers for the inmates, at least 34 inmates are still on hunger strike, and half of those continue to be force-fed.

"The appellate court held that the detainees should be allowed a ‘meaningful opportunity’ back in District Court to show that the Guantanamo force-feeding was illegal," said human rights charity Reprieve, which brought the case along with associated counsel Jon B. Eisenberg. "The judges also invited the detainees to challenge other aspects of the protocol. The detainees have alleged that the force-feeding is both a violation of their rights, and gratuitously torturous."

The ruling, however, simultaneously turned down a request by the Guantanamo detainees and their lawyers to enforce an injunction on the practice of force-feeding altogether.

Despite that fact, the plaintiffs considered the decision a minor victory.

"This is one step towards justice," said Shaker Aamer, a British resident who remains in the prison despite having been cleared for release, in a conversation with his lawyer. Aamer, who is said to be on hunger strike, was one of three detainees who filed a petition to the a D.C. appeals court that lead to the case. Aamer continued:

A general in charge of this place said they were going to make it less ‘convenient’ for us to go on a peaceful hunger strike. The way they force feed us is just torture, using the FCE [Forcible Cell Extraction] team to force us to the feeding room, using the torture chair to strap us down, using tubes that are too big for our noses, and putting the 120 centimeter tubes in and pulling them out forcefully twice each day, with each feeding. Instead of making matters worse here, they should treat us with respect, like human beings.

"This is a victory for the prisoners," said Cori Crider, Reprieve’s strategic director. "The detainees have been on hunger strike for years now, with the simple, peaceful demand that they be given a fair trial or freedom."

"This is the first time the D.C. Court of Appeals has said Gitmo prisoners have the right to challenge their treatment in Gitmo, and that is a big deal," Crider told Al Jazeera.

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