Men on hunger strike in the Guantanamo Bay offshore prison have asked a U.S. court to intervene to stop the military from destroying evidence of atrocities committed in the course of force-feedings.
According to an emergency motion filed by the detainees on Tuesday, the Department of Defense acknowledged this week for the first time that it possesses videos depicting the force-feeding of inmates—a highly controversial process that has been condemned as torture and a violation of international law by the United Nations human rights office. From painful insertion of tubes to the pumping of food to the threat of stomach damage and asphyxiation, the practice of force-feeding has been compared to water-boarding.
The hunger strikers say the footage provides critical evidence of their abuse and torture, making it key to their legal challenge of this practice. In February, a federal appeals court ruled that judges can oversee Guantanamo Bay detainees' complaints about their conditions—opening the door to challenges to force-feedings.
According to UK-based NGO Reprieve, which is providing co-counsel to the case, "The tapes are likely to show Guantánamo’s ‘Forcible Cell Extraction’ (FCE) team transporting hunger-striking detainees who refuse (or are too weak) to walk to the force-feeding chair. This process, in which a team of military police in riot gear storm a prisoner’s cell and ‘subdue’ him, has long been criticized as abusive. In 2003, USAF Spc. Sean Baker suffered permanent brain damage during a cell extraction training exercise. He was playing the role of the detainee."
Tuesday's court filing states that the DoD admitted to possessing video footage that shows the FCE process as well as the actual process of the force-feeding, which prisoners have charged are painful and degrading.
While the U.S. military stopped releasing official numbers of hunger strikers last year, Reprieve estimates that 17 men are going without food to protest their indefinite confinement. A majority of the 150 people who remain detained at Guantanamo Bay have been cleared for release by the U.S. government.