Friday, October 28, 2005

"Voluntary fast" v. "Hunger strike"

Depending on who you talk to, 26 to 210 of the >500 prisoners held at GITMO are on a hunger-strike. This particular mass-protest began in the summer. Desperate to avoid mass-suicide (bad press, eh), the U.S. Army has resorted to crude force-feeding techniques. Earlier in October--as the protest stretched past the 2 month mark--the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concerns to the Americans:
The ICRC backs a 1975 Tokyo declaration by the World Medical Association stating doctors should not take party in force-feeding but keep prisoners informed of the sometimes irreversible consequences of their hunger strike
The U.S. Army referred to it as a "voluntary fast" and insisted they are being given "excellent care." The A lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky:
Olshansky said conditions had driven detainees to despair and described their thinking: "The only thing I have control over is what I eat. And this is the only way that I can get the world to see how horrible an injustice that I think this is."
The Army countered: "This technique is consistent with al Qaeda training and reflects detainees' attempts to elicit media attention." Remember, only 4 of the prisoners currently in GITMO have actually been charged with any crimes. Needless to say, the status of the protesters has caused their families considerable anguish. One prisoner, Fawzi al-Odah of Kuwait, has asked his lawyers to seek the removal of his feeding tube "out of desperation" over his imprisonment without charges. Fearing his physical decline, al-Odah's family will not consent to the removal of the feeding tube. In a positive development, a U.S. District judge has recently asked the government to provide medical data regarding the hunger-strikers:
Kessler stated in her opinion that the detainees' lawyers had presented "deeply troubling" allegations of forced feedings in which U.S. personnel violently shoved tubes as thick as a finger through the men's noses and into their stomachs without anesthesia or sedatives. [...] Julia Tarver, a lawyer for the detainees, had told the court she learned during a visit to the base several weeks ago of force-feedings that caused prisoners to vomit blood. Tarver wrote, "When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like 'look what your religion has brought you.' Tarver told the court that prison guards took a feeding tube from one detainee, "and with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee."
The legal opinion is available here (.pdf). Canada's only known detainee is 18 y/o Omar Khadr. Although it is not known whether Khadr has participated in the hunger-strike, he has been detained for almost 4 years and is said to be at high-risk for suicide. In February 2005, his lawyers reported that Khadr "had been used as a human mop to clean urine on the floor and had been beaten, threatened with rape and tied up for hours in painful positions at Guantanamo Bay."

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