Nation & World

U.S. now calls Guantánamo hunger strike ‘long term non-religious fasting’

Chart on a wall inside a prison clinic at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo instructs medical staff to deduct 76.2 pounds from the weight of a captive wheeled onto a scale in a restraint chair.
Chart on a wall inside a prison clinic at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo instructs medical staff to deduct 76.2 pounds from the weight of a captive wheeled onto a scale in a restraint chair. MIAMI HERALD

The Guantánamo Bay prison has adopted a new forced-feeding policy that rhetorically recasts the year-long hunger strike in the remote prison camps as “long term non-religious fasting.”

The Pentagon disclosed the rebranding effort Tuesday with the release of a 24-page how-to document developed by the prison camps in December. It blacks out specifics that apparently define how much weight loss and how many missed meals qualify a hunger-striking captive for the prison's twice-daily tube feedings.

In it, the U.S. military at Guantánamo appears to be distinguishing between bona fide Muslim fasts and the protest that started more than a year ago and, at its height, drew the participation of more than 100 prisoners.

The document is called “Medical Management of Detainees with Weight Loss,” and replaced a guide written in March 2013 called “Medical Management of Detainees on Hunger Strike.”

Some prison spokesmen have argued that the captives were manipulating their weight loss to qualify as hunger strikers — and to focus attention on their indefinite detention at the prison. About half of Guantánamo’s 155 prisoners are approved for release once the Obama administration reaches resettlement or repatriation agreements with nations that agree to take them.

The new document, dated Dec. 16, 2013, describes the health challenge that caused the military to send in additional medics last year as “weight loss,” and calls forced-feedings “involuntary enteral feedings.” With the reinforcements still there, the prison now has a nearly 1-to-1 ratio of U.S. Navy medical staff to captives.

The document appears to include a medical calculus for how much to force-feed a morbidly obese hunger striker.

It also includes this instruction: “If the RN [nurse] or HM [medic] feels they are in any danger of personal harm during an enteral feed, they are to withdraw from the situation and immediately inform the guards of their concerns.”

More than 100 prisoners were on hunger strike over the summer, with the prison handling an all-time high of 46 captives getting tube feedings in July, a time when the military issued daily figures.

Hunger strike participation dropped to as low as 11 in mid-November, by the military’s count. It had risen to 15 on Dec. 2, when the prison abruptly declared a blackout on hunger-strike transparency after nine months of daily disclosures.

Asked via email Tuesday how many of the 155 captives are considered to be “non-religious fasters” and how many are receiving “enteral feedings,” spokesman Cmdr. John Filostrat replied, “Our policy at JTF-GTMO [Joint Task Force-Guantánamo] is to not publicly issue the number of detainees who choose not to eat as a matter of protest.”

At the U.S. Southern Command in Doral, the Pentagon outpost with oversight of the prison, Marine Gen. John Kelly had openly derided the protest as “hunger strike lite,” and differed with President Barack Obama's description of his troops as “force-feeding” prisoners.

The new terminology more closely aligns with the general's language of choice on the long-running protest by an undisclosed number of captives receiving prison-mandated tube feedings.

The Miami Herald obtained the document from the Department of Defense Monday after the Department of Justice released a redacted version in ongoing hunger-strike related litigation.

At the Pentagon, however, spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale had yet to adopt the new lingo by Tuesday evening. “I'm unaware of any policy shift in how we term the hunger striking detainees.”

In other Guantánamo news Tuesday:

The lawyers did not argue that the man should be allowed to starve to death. Rather they challenged the methods used by the military at Guantánamo, where medics claim they treat their charges with care and dignity.

“Fluids are sometimes forced through detainees’ feeding tubes at such an extreme rate —nearly two-thirds of a gallon in as little as 20 minutes — as to constitute a form of the “Water Cure” torture, which dates back to the Middle Ages,” Hassan’s lawyers wrote in their 35-page filing.

A Justice Department spokeswoman told the Associated Press that government lawyers were reviewing the filing.

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