As Ramadan begins, more than 100 inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison will continue fasting, both as a religious practice and as a protest against conditions of torture and prolonged detention without charge at the prison.
U.S. medical authorities have resorted to force-feeding 45 inmates, but have vowed in court to carry out the practice only when the sun is down in order to respect the religious beliefs of the detainees, some of whom have been held for a decade or more without charge or trial.
Force-feeding Guantanamo detainees is considered a form of torture by the U.N. and major medical bodies like the World Medical Association.
“Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting,” the World Medical Association posted in the wake of reports that Guantanamo detainees are forcefully strapped to a chair for up to two hours while doctors force a tube down their nostril.
Despite the objections, U.S. medical teams have been carrying out force-feedings for months, sparking major backlash from elected officials and leading human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Code Pink.
Renowned hip-hop artist Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, shed light on the practice by voluntarily undergoing a force-feeding procedure in accordance with the U.S. guidelines. A graphic video published by The Guardian shows Bey writhing in pain as he wretches and coughs.
“This is me, please stop, I can’t do it,” the award winning artist yells out at one point in the procedure.
In an effort to learn more about how to handle this crisis, the U.S. has invited officials from the Israeli Medical Association to learn more about how to deal with these situations.
It is an area where Israeli medical authorities may have more experience than the U.S., as Palestinian prisoners and detainees have been using intermittent hunger strikes to protest prolonged detention without charge since at least 2005. The U.S. invitation followed a discussion about the issue during a recent convention at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Unlike the U.S., Israeli policies regarding hunger strikers appear to follow some of the major international protocols that prohibit force-feeding in all cases.
Haaretz newspaper reports that the Israeli guidelines were written following hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners in 2005. They are based mostly on the 1975 Tokyo Declaration of the World Medical Association, as well as the Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers. The policy dictates that hunger strikers will not be forced to ingest liquids or food against their will.
“Hunger strikes are delicate situations, necessitating doctors to enable non-violent protest without force-feeding the prisoner,” said Dr. Tami Karni, deputy chairperson of the Israeli Medical Association’s ethics committee.
Despite the Israeli medical community’s stance, prisoners in Israel frequently complain of torture. Ynet News reported in February that an autopsy conducted by a Palestinian medical team found that Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian prisoner, was tortured to death by Israeli prison authorities.
Gavan Kelly of the Prisoner Support Network and Human Rights Association told Mint Press News that as of last month, nine Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike. According to Prisoner Support Network statistics, there are 4,979 people in Israeli prisons, 156 of whom are administrative detainees who are being held without charge or trial.
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