Force-fed ‘torture’ or humane treatment at Guantanamo Bay?

By Chantal Valery, AFP

US NAVAL BASE AT GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — One Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo Bay says it is an agonizing, cruel punishment that he would not wish on anyone. U.S. federal Judge Gladys Kessler describes it as a “painful, humiliating and degrading process.” But for staff at the controversial U.S. military jail, the criticisms of feeding by tubes — force-feeding or enteral feeding depending on where you stand — are overblown. A six-month mass hunger strike by detainees at Guantanamo this year has forced prison authorities to repeatedly resort to the practice to prevent inmates starving to death. But while it has been decried by a legion of rights groups as inhumane, Guantanamo officials insist it is merely “uncomfortable.” In a tour arranged for reporters last week, journalists were given a glimpse of the protocols governing feeding by tube.

Reporters were shown where hunger-strikers are restrained before a tube delivering essential nutrients is inserted into their body for “feeding.” “For enteral feeding, the first thing we do is offer the person a regular meal,” said a hospital medic given the alias “Leonato.” “They refuse that, we now offer a nutritional supplement to drink themselves. They refuse that, then they’re taken by the guards to the enteral feed chair and restrained. We measure the correct length of the tube, they’re offered either a (anesthetic) gel or olive oil. The feed lasts 30-35 minutes.” One of Leonato’s colleagues, identified only as “Froth,” says the procedure is “a quick process.” “The most irritation is when it passes back to your throat,” he said. “It’s a quick in-and-out process. You do feel it, but it’s not painful.” Another colleague agreed. “It just feels uncomfortable.”

No journalist was allowed to view an inmate being fed by tube. The sessions are typically conducted twice a day on the 38 detainees who are on the enteral feeding list, out of the 53 who remain on hunger strike. For the past six months, men scooped up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and held in Guantanamo without trial for a decade, have been protesting their continued incarceration at the facility. “Obviously if the men were not eating for six months none of them would be alive,” says Guantanamo’s head of public affairs Captain Robert Durand.