Calls from the medical community to address the hunger strikes and tortuous practice of force feeding prisoners at Guantanamo are growing louder.
In an open letter to President Obama published by The Lancet this week, 153 doctors urge the Commander-in-Chief to respond to a letter by hunger-striking prisoners at the notorious prison that called for access to independent medical professionals and for the military doctors at the detention center "to stop actively contributing to the abusive conditions" forced upon them.
The doctors write that they "endorse [detainees'] request, and are prepared to visit them under appropriate conditions, to assist in their recovery and release."
It is clear that they do not trust their military doctors. They have very good reason for this, as you should know, from the current protocols of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which those doctors are ordered to follow. The orders they receive are ultimately your orders as their Commander-in-Chief. Without trust, safe and acceptable medical care of mentally competent patients is impossible. Since the detainees do not trust their military doctors, they are unlikely to comply with current medical advice.
That makes it imperative for them to have access to independent medical examination and advice, as they ask, and as required by the UN and World Medical Association.
Cori Crider, Strategic Director and Guantanamo attorney with the UK-based charity Reprieve, responded to the doctors' open letter saying, “The doctors in Guantanamo are being asked to do terrible things by the US military – things which may haunt them for the rest of their lives."
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"We’re very grateful that independent doctors have stepped forward to help, but fundamentally Barack Obama needs to realize that this is the greatest crisis in Guantanamo of his presidency and start treating it as such. The men who have been cleared for release must go home to their families at once," stated Crider.
The open letter in The Lancet comes on the heels of a commentary by senior medical professors from Boston University published in the New England Journal of Medicine in which they describe the Guantanamo prison as a medical ethics-free zone. The wrote that "Actions violating medical ethics, taken on behalf of the government, devalue medical ethics for all physicians," and that any medical professional that participates in the force feeding of prisoners is merely a "weapon for maintaining prison order."
Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault. Using a physician to assault prisoners no more changes the nature of the act than using physicians to “monitor” torture makes torture a medical procedure. Military physicians are no more entitled to betray medical ethics than military lawyers are to betray the Constitution or military chaplains are to betray their religion.
The American Medical Association also sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in April calling force feeding a violation of medical ethics.
Despite these notable statements against the force feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, the Associated Press reported on Thursday that prison spokesman Navy Captain Robert Durand said that none of the medical professionals had voiced concern over the force feeding.
Nearly all the Guantanamo prisoners are on hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and over 40 are being force fed, a practice one detainee described as feeling "razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat."