The U.S. government refused Guantanamo Bay detainees' demands for an immediate halt to force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners during Ramadan and vowed to continue this practice through the holy Muslim holiday that starts July 8.
In court documents filed Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice rejected a federal suit by Guantanamo inmates Shaker Aamer, Nabil Hadjarab, Ahmed Belbacha, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab demanding an immediate end to the practice of drugging and force-feeding at least 45 detainees on the grounds it constitutes cruel and inhumane treatment.
The U.S. government declared that the federal court does not have legal jurisdiction over the Guantanamo detainees because they are not considered 'persons' under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Obama Administration officials say they will simply uphold the 'status quo' on force-feedings.
Yet, in a legal response to the government's Wednesday decision, the detainees lawyers—affiliated with anti-torture group Reprieve—argue:
Guantanamo Bay has become a festering wound of human rights violations... The status quo, of course, is that petitioners are being held indefinitely without any sort of trial or military commission proceeding, even though they were cleared for release years ago. That respondents now profess a desire to prolong this status quo via force-feeding is staggering."
Colonel Greg Julian, director of public affairs for US southern command, told the Guardian, "We do not force-feed observant Muslims during daylight hours during Ramadan. These policies have been in place for years, and are consistent with our mission to safely detain while supporting the religious practices of those in US custody."
Yet, the lawyers representing the detainees warned in a Reprieve statement:
Based on Guantanamo authorities’ own numbers, there will be “just 10 hours and 44 minutes [between sunset and sunrise] for respondents to implement two force-feedings of 45 detainees for up to an hour of feeding time and four hours of total observation time per detainee which could require dozens of restraint chairs and hundreds of staff.
If this can even be achieved, Guantanamo Bay will become a veritable force-feeding factory.
Furthermore, critics charge that forced-drugging and feeding constitute torture no matter when they are administered, as the detainees are strapped to restraining chairs, drugged with the dangerous Reglan, and have tubes forced through their nostrils into their stomachs in a painful procedure that many charge is a form of torture.
"Hunger striking is the sole peaceful means that I have to protest my indefinite detention,” declared Belbacha in Reprieve statement released last week.
Over 100 of the 106 Guantanamo Bay detainees are on a hunger strike that has raged since February, in protest of open-ended, indefinite detentions, absence of due process, and widespread torture, including solitary confinement.
The four inmates who filed the court petition are just some of the many who are still being detained despite already being cleared for release.
President Obama—who ran for president in 2008 on the promise he would close Guantanamo Bay—claimed last month he would expedite the release of people wrongfully detained in Guantanamo.
The detainees lawyers say that, while the U.S. government argues the force-feeding is necessary to prevent them from 'laying waste to their bodies,' the reality is that "petitioners’ indefinite detention, however, is laying waste to their souls.”