Guantánamo Hunger Strike: It Doesn't Matter Whether Force-Feedings Comply With Ramadan


The 106 Guantánamo inmates who have been bravely on a months-long hunger strike will continue to be force-fed during Ramadan. The U.S. government says the feedings provide "essential nutritional and medical care" and assures they will not interfere with religious observance, with the added proviso that things could change given "any unforeseen emergency or operational issues." Although the force-feeding will not take place during Ramadan's traditional dusk-until-dawn fast, this is unlikely to make anyone think better of it.

The hunger strike began in February with the prisoners protesting the insane injustices they've been subject to. This includes the halt of prisoner transfers and release of cleared detainees because of security restrictions imposed by Congress and the Obama administration. Right, make sure you get this: the detainees have been cleared of any wrong-doing but are still in Guantánamo. They are also protesting the confiscation of personal items such as family letters, photos and mail.

Many of the strikers are now being strapped-down and force-fed, a practice by which your body and head is restrained and a tube is inserted into your nose that extends down your stomach. The World Medical Association says force-feeding violates fundamental medical ethics. When accompanied by "threats, coercion, force, and use of physical restraints, (it's) considered inhuman and degrading treatment." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has said the current force-feeding policies violate international standards. The Red Cross has also called out the U.S. over this brutal tactic.  The Obama administration has yet to allow independent physicians to come observe the procedures. 

Shaker Aamar, who has spent 11 years without trial at the camp despite being twice cleared for release, recently spoke of increasingly brutal tactics being used in an attempt to break the strike.

Lawyers for the men argue that the feedings during Ramadan will lead to mass use of restraint chairs, require hundreds of staff to administer, and could be dangerous for the detainees' health. A new legal filing lodged with a federal court in Washington says, "If this can even be achieved, Guantánamo Bay will become a veritable force-feeding factory," the lawyers write.

The lawyers are right, the logistics are ugly. Normally carried out twice a day, the procedure takes up to 30 minutes, with the detainee then placed in a "dry cell" without water for up to two hours. Between sunset and sunrise (which on the first full day of Ramadan will occur at 7:44 p.m. and 6:28 a.m. at the U.S. naval base in Cuba) there will be just 10 hours and 44 minutes available for camp wardens to carry out two force-feedings each of 45 detainees, involving an hour in total of feeding time and up to four hours of observation per man.

Around the world, Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan by foregoing food and water from sunup to sundown. They are permitted to eat and drink before dawn and after sunset. Fasting is an exercise of both self-restraint and generosity. It also serves as a reminder of  the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well.

The mental picture painted of prison wardens ramming tubes down the detainees' noses all month is ugly. It surely won't do much for America's reputation abroad, and doesn't inspire people like me at home.