Video shows brutality of force-feeding prisoners

Yesiin Bey
Yesiin Bey
Yasiin Bey

To make the plight of the ‘detainees’ at Guantánamo Bay a bit more high-profile, it may help to stick a tube down the nose of a celebrity.

Actor and musician Yasiin Bey (you may know him better as Mos Def) demonstrates how prisoners on hunger strike are force-fed. Strapped into a chair and held down by multiple men, Bey has a tube inserted through is nose and down to his stomach so that food can be pumped into his body.

The video (see bottom) is a piece of activism from the British human rights group Reprieve. Human Rights groups argue that prisoners have the right to choose whether or not to eat. Their aim is to show the brutality of force-feeding.

Detainees in Guantánamo Bay prison continue to fight for their right to undertake a hunger strike – as a means to more broadly protest their detention (which some contend violates international law). Current rules at the prison do not allow for hunger strikes. The staff at the prison must force-feed the prisoners who are refusing to eat. Lawyers for four of the detainees filed legal proceedings to stop the practice last week. From the Guardian:

Lawyers acting for four detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay have accused the US government of preparing to operate a “force-feeding factory” in the camp during the holy month of Ramadan.

In a new legal filing lodged with a federal court in Washington, 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 health of detainees. “If this can even be achieved, Guantánamo Bay will become a veritable force-feeding factory,” the lawyers write.

In response to earlier legal challenges, the US government has refused to suspend force feeding through tubes directly into the stomachs of detainees during Ramadan. Some 45 men out of 106 currently on hunger strike are being enterally fed in this way.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera discussed whether force-feeding was in fact torture at the end of May. He pointed to numerous international bodies and organizations that condemn force feedings when a prisoner is mentally fit to make the decision.

For decades, the international community, including the International Red Cross, the World Medical Association and the United Nations, have recognized the right of prisoners of sound mind to go on a hunger strike. Force-feeding has been labeled a violation on the ban of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The World Medical Association holds that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in force-feeding. Put simply, force-feeding violates international law.

There are also questions about whether the practice violates medical ethics. A June article in the New England Journal of Medicine cites the World Medical Association’s strong ban against force-feeding when prisoners are making a conscious choice. The authors conclude that the doctors involved in the force-feeding procedures at Guantanamo Bay should stop.

“Guantanamo has been described as a “legal black hole.”As it increasingly also becomes a medical ethics–free zone, we believe it’s time for the medical profession to take constructive political action to try to heal the damage and ensure that civilian and military physicians follow the same medical ethics principles,” they write.

Warning: Some may find the video difficult to watch.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.