The US military has confirmed that at least 40 "medical personnel" have arrived at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in order to expand a force-feeding operation designed to counter an ongoing hunger strike by more than 100 prisoners protesting their indefinite detention and ill treatment.
But because the procedure of "force-feeding" is widely held as a form of torture, critics of the practice may well view the medical teams as nothing more than 'torture reinforcements' as the number of those approved for the painful process continues to grow and their conditions deteriorate.
Military authorities repeatedly claim that force-feedings are somehow necessary, but experts are unequivocal when they declare that the procedure is torture.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission considers the practice of force-feeding—in which detainees are strapped to a restraining chair, have tubes pushed up their nostrils and liquids pumped down their throats—a clear form of torture. In addition, the World Medical Association prohibits its physicians from participating in force-feeding and the American Medical Association has just sent a letter to the Pentagon calling the practice an affront to accepted medical ethics.
One detainee, speaking recently through his lawyer David Remes, described the process by saying it felt a "razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat."
In an interview with the Guardian, Remes discussed the treatment of those at Guantanamo as he pushed back against the US military's claims that it is safeguarding the prisoners by torturing them. "It's like the way you would treat an animal," he said. Watch:
Despite testimony like this and the many objections by human rights advocates, reports indicate that at least 21 men have been approved for force feeding at the US prison.
As The Guardian reports:
Authorities said that the "influx" of medical reinforcements had been weeks in the planning. But the news will fuel speculation that the condition of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is deteriorating. Shaker Aamer, the last British resident being kept at the centre, told his lawyer earlier this month that authorities will soon see fatalities as a result of the current action.
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"I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here," said Aamer, who is refusing food.
The action is a protest against conditions at the centre, as well as the indefinite nature of the remaining prisoners' confinement. Aamer has been cleared for release twice, but is still behind bars after 11 years. He has never been charged or faced trial but the US refuses to allow him to return to the UK, despite official protests by the British government.
Late last week, president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, sent a letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in order to remind the Pentagon that the AMA's long-held view is that force feeding is both an unethical and inhumane practic practice.
As Reuters report:
[The AMA letter] urged the defense secretary "to address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession."
Hagel had just returned from a trip to the Middle East and it was unclear whether he had seen the letter, said Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale.
Asked if military doctors had raised ethical concerns about being asked to perform force-feedings, Breasseale said, "I can tell you there have been no organized efforts, but I cannot speak for individual physicians.
Vince Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights which represents many of the detainees, welcomed the AMA's letter.
"In reaffirming its long-standing opposition to force feeding Guantanamo prisoners, the country’s most prominent medical association has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration’s wholly inadequate response to the hunger strik," Warren said. "The administration cannot force feed its way out of this growing medical emergency."
He added, "The only true solution is to resume transfers of prisoners and close Guantanamo."