The force-feeding of terror suspects at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, runs counter to international standards, medical ethics and the practices at American prisons, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday in pressing the Pentagon to establish a more humane treatment.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who traveled to Guantánamo earlier this month, wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of “her opposition to the force-feeding of detainees, not for reasons of medical necessity but as a matter of policy that stands in conflict with international norms.”
As of Wednesday, Navy medical staff were forced-feeding 44 of 104 prisoners that the U.S. detention facility considered hunger strikers. One of the men was getting his nasogastric tube inserted at the hospital but did not have a life-threatening condition, said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a spokesman for the U.S. detention center that houses 166 captives in Cuba.
“Hunger strikes are a long-known form of non-violent protest aimed at bringing attention to a cause, rather than an attempt of suicide,” Feinstein wrote. “I believe that the current approach raises very important ethical questions and complicates the difficult situation regarding the continued indefinite detention at Guantánamo.”
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Feinstein said that during her June 7 visit to the installation with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, they were briefed on the Pentagon policies on handling prisoners on hunger strikes. Since then, a review by committee staff found significant differences between how the Pentagon force-feeds detainees at Guantánamo and how it is done by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
She said the U.S. prison system has several safeguards in place that do not exist at Guantánamo.
At Guantánamo, “all detainees being force-fed – regardless of their level of cooperation – are placed in chairs where they are forcibly restrained. The visual impression is one of restraint: of arms, legs, and body. Further, at Guantánamo Bay, detainees are fed twice a day in this manner, potentially over a substantial period of time.”
The Pentagon would not comment on the letter. “We’re not going to respond to letters to the secretary in the press,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, accompanying reporters at the Navy base for this week’s hearings in the Sept. 11 death penalty case.
After their trip, Feinstein and McCain issued a statement saying they favor closing the detention facility and moving the prisoners to other locations.
The defense bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week includes a provision that allows the temporary transfer of terror suspects to a Defense Department medical facility in the United States to prevent the death or significant imminent harm to a prisoner’s health.
However, the full Senate is not expected to consider the bill until the fall and lawmakers are likely to try to change the provision.