by Jared Metzker
By now millions of people have seen the video of Yasiin Bey (a hip hop artist and actor formerly known as Mos Def) being strapped to a chair and force-fed in a manner similar to that used daily to treat hunger-striking inmates at Guantanamo Bay.
The video was produced by the UK group Reprieve, which advocates for prisoners’ rights worldwide and represents a number of the detainees being held in Gitmo.
Last week, along with releasing the video, Reprieve unveiled a report that collates unclassified testimonies of those who are being subjected to the procedure.
These testimonies describe experiences far worse than what Bey endured. Reprieve concludes that they amount to compelling evidence of “unnecessary force” being used on strikers.
In Bey’s video it’s clear that the end of the tube shoved through his nose all the way down into his stomach (traversing his esophagus along the way) is plastic. In the report, prisoners complain that the tips of the tubes used by Guantanamo doctors are metal.
Multiple prisoners say that the tips tear at their noses and throats as they pass through, causing bleeding and vomiting during and after feeding. They also say that doctors intentionally insert the tube too far, which makes it rub painfully against the bottom of the stomach as it discharges the liquid meal.
Strikers who attempt to remain in their cells and resist the force-feeding are given a treatment that the military has abbreviated as FCE — short for forcible cell extraction. This method of compelling the inmates to accept the tubes is by all accounts violent. One striker claims to have had his ribs broken and re-broken by separate FCEs.
The World Medical Association, as well as the American Medical Association, rejects the practice of force-feeding and medical professionals note that it is an unethical way (especially if done through unnecessary force) of ending strikes.
Other methods, such as compromising to address certain remediable prisoner complaints, are considered ethical ways of persuading strikers to quit. Indeed, over half of the forty-five strikers quit on Sunday, reportedly after being given more communal time for Ramadan-related observations.
The large number of views garnered by the Bey video alone is evidence that Americans care about the Guantanamo issue. This on-going concern may put pressure on President Obama to make good on his renewed promise to shut down the prison.
It may also motivate his counterparts in Congress to facilitate the process. (A letter sent by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin last week was a sign that this is already occurring.)
While it is questionable whether force-feeding can be labelled “torture”, that’s how the strikers in Reprieve’s report describe it.
It is nevertheless undeniable that the strikers, none of whom have ever been charged and all of whom have been cleared for release, are experiencing severe pain on a daily basis.
Still awash in the controversy over the Edward Snowden affair, Obama likely doesn’t want to see the public support he won by ending waterboarding at Guantanamo recede due to new accusations of torture.
Faced with enough outrage he might step up his efforts to finally have the prison shut down.
— Jared Metzker is a reporter for IPS and studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies. He can be reached by email.