Judging from the harrowing Guardian interview with Guantanamo detention camp inmate Shaker Aamer, the Obama administration is stooping to new human rights lows in an attempt to break the hunger strike, and then men participating in it. The strike that began with six inmates on March 4 has grown to 105 out of the 166 prisoners. These 105 men have been driven to such despair that they are willing to endure starvation, and the brutality of the guards that accompanies it.
The despair of these men is understandable. Out of the 166 detainees, 152 are non-high value. Only six prisoners are facing military commission, 80 are being held with insufficient evidence for conviction, and 86 have actually been cleared for release but still remain in confinement with no end in sight. Therefore, as a reporter asked president Obama at a press conference last week, “Is it any surprise, really, that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?”
The strike has put Obama under more pressure, as six years have passed since her promised to close the detention center, and no progress or inmate transfers have been made. Gitmo presents a difficult situation for Obama and congress. Both want to keep the inmates in a safe hold, and are reluctant to house dangerous enemy combatants on the American mainland. Furthermore, the United States have instituted an embargo on transfers to Yemen, where 90 of the inmates are from. These prisoners remain stuck in limbo until the US government can think of somewhere else to store them.
Not only has the strike successfully brought attention to the neglected political issue, it has also brought attention to the ethics of the appropriate response to a hunger strike. Is it better to let them die or to force-feed the inmates on strike?
“Well, I don’t—I don’t want these individuals to die,” President Obama said at a press conference. Despite Obama’s apparent sympathy for the plight of the prisoners, his administration has ordered increasingly brutal tactics to attempt to break the strike. The process of force-feeding seems brutal enough, having a tube forcefully inserted up one’s nose, yet the guards have been instructed to do whatever they can to make the experience even more unpleasant.
According to Shaker Aamer, prison guards have been instructed to introduce metal tipped feeding tubes which are to be forced into inmates stomachs twice a day, causing inmates to vomit all over themselves, and physicians have stopped wearing nametags so that they cannot be held accountable for their unethical treatment of patients.
Both the American Medical Association and the American Constitution view force feeding as a violation of medical ethics. Medical intervention must always be the patients’ choice. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have called upon Guantanamo medical staff to refuse force-feeding the inmates and consider it a human rights violation.
Amnesty international also released statement saying, “These gruesome new details show just how bad things are in Guantanamo. The whole thing is at breaking point. Clearly the US military is under enormous pressure and doing everything it can to hurt the men and break the hunger strike.”
As observers and human rights supporters, we can only hope that the hunger strike inspires speedy action resulting in the closing of the controversial camp. This will close a decade long dark chapter in United States political history.