The document release comes as more than 100 prisoners continue their hunger strikes.
Documents that show the U.S. military policy of force-feeding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were revealed for the first time this week after a request by Al Jazeera was received. The 30-page Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) underscores previous reports by the United Nations, human rights organizations and even the American Medical Association claiming that the practice is a brutal, inhumane policy inflicted upon the 100 detainees currently hunger striking at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Force-feeding is the latest action in a long history of torture at the facility opened by the Bush administration in 2002. Amnesty International reported in 2009 that detainees were and continue to be subject to sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and other forms of psychological torture. The majority of the men have not been charged with crimes, but have been held for years in small cells kept at uncomfortably low temperatures.
A small group of detainees began a hunger strike in February to protest these exact conditions. The U.S. military did not begin force-feeding until the strike grew to include more than 100 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo.
The SOP offers the first step-by-step breakdown of the force-feeding process. According to the document, hunger striking Guantanamo prisoners who are force-fed a liquid nutritional supplement undergo a medical procedure that requires them to wear masks over their mouths while they sit shackled in a restraint chair for up to two hours.
During the procedure, a tube roughly 61 centimeters in length is forced down their nostril, allowing authorities to administer the food.
This process previously has been described by detainees as being extremely painful. “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up,” wrote Guantanamo detainee, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, in a New York Times op-ed, “Gitmo Is Killing Me.”
At the end of the feeding, detainees are removed from the chair and locked in a room with no running water. Guards are instructed to observe them for up to an hour to make sure that the detainees digest the food without vomiting. If they induce vomiting, they are sent back to the chair for another two-hour force feeding session.
Authorities who have reviewed the documents claim that doctors and nurses are subservient to the authority of the U.S. military and have no ability to exercise medical judgement that deviates from the SOP. “It is a very frightening idea that the medical staff is an adjunct of the security force,” said Leonard Rubenstein, a lawyer at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Berman Institute of Bioethics who reviewed the documents for Al Jazeera.
“The clinical judgment of a doctor or a nurse is basically trumped by this policy and protocol. Doctors are not acting with the kind of professional medical independence [that they should]. It’s clear that, notwithstanding references to preservation of detainee health in the policy, the first interest is in ending the protests,” Rubenstein continued.
It is the commander of the base, not doctors, who selects prisoners for force-feeding.
Doctors and nurses who conduct the procedures are on hand simply to carry out the military policy.
“In the event a detainee refrains from eating or drinking to the point where it is determined by the medical assessment that continued fasting will result in a threat to life or seriously jeopardise health, and involuntary feeding is required, no direct action will be taken without the knowledge and written approval of the Commander,” the document says.