GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Rapper Mos Def may have scored sympathy for the prisoners here with a brutal web video dramatization of a forced-feeding. But in this corner of Cuba where U.S. troops are charged with managing the long-running hunger strike, fans are hard to find.
I deleted his music off my iPod. I was a little upset about it, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Vernon Branson, 33, who is a watch commander at Camp 6, the steel and concrete prison where more than 100 prisoners went on hunger strike this year.
As of Friday, the military said, 68 captives were on hunger strike, down from a high of 106 amid apparently easing tensions for Ramadan, Islams holy month. Of the 68, 44 were designated for tube feedings of the type that the hip-hop recording artist who now goes by Yasiin Bey tried to portray in London last month in a demonstration organized by a British legal defense group.
Detention center troops interviewed this week expressed opinions ranging from resentment to indifference to the rappers stunt that put a spotlight on the forced-feedings that the worlds not allowed to see. Reporters have requested to observe tube feedings throughout the hunger strike but permission has not been granted.
So the question is: where does the truth lie? Is it the depiction in the viral video and the lawyers claim that their clients are being tortured? Or is it the insistence of the U.S. military that forced-feedings are intended to preserve life, not inflict pain.
Several guards in Bransons military police unit got nasogastric feedings out of curiosity since deploying here two months ago, the sergeant said, and took it like a champ.
Its a life-saving tool if you ask me, said Branson, whose troops deployed from Fort Bliss, Texas. We see it every day and we know its not as bad as they make it out to be.
The captives lawyers say their clients consider it torture an agonizing, degrading introduction of nutrition that obviates their right to protest their indefinite detention. They got U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to agree, although she ruled she does not have the authority to stop the military.
President Barack Obama, who does have the authority, has lamented that in his failure to close the camps that now contain 166 captives, the United States has come down to the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike.
Yet 10 members of the Navy medical corps who do the feedings said in a series of interviews that they are proud of their service and pained by the portrayal that they are doing something inhumane. Detainees who dont want the tube, they said, have the option to eat. But, as U.S. military medical forces, they are determined not to let them starve.
I never felt like I would be that person who would be persecuted for keeping a detainee alive, said Eric, a 24-year-old corpsman, the Navys name for a medic. He helps evaluate the captives to see whose body weight is low enough to merit tube feedings of a nutritional shake if they will not drink it on their own.
Navy nurses and corpsmen interviewed said theyve routinely trained by doing nasogastric feedings by inserting tubes up their own noses or in fellow sailors or soldiers and universally shrugged off the tube feedings as painless. Each said they volunteered to deploy to the prison from such far-flung posts as Italy, Illinois and Washington, D.C., and several said theyd volunteer again citing a range of reasons from the beauty of the beaches to scuba diving, the camaraderie of service at the base and the change of pace.