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Force-feeding of Gitmo inmates is unethical: US doctor

25 july 2013, 18:29
0
The force-feeding of hunger striking inmates at the US prison in Guantanamo clearly violates medical ethics and international law, AFP reports citing a former military doctor.

Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and psychiatrist, called for an end to feeding some detainees through nasal tubes when they refuse to eat, saying it was a coercive, inhumane practice that broke the bond between a doctor and patient.

"Force-feeding completely undermines the physician-patient relationship by destroying the trust that is essential for all clinical treatment, including medical issues unrelated issues to force-feeding," said Xenakis, an expert from Physicians for Human Rights who has evaluated some of the hunger strikers.

"The plain truth is that force-feeding violates medical ethics and international legal obligations and nothing in the name of defending our country can justify cruel, inhumane and degrading treatmeant of another man or woman," he told a Senate hearing.

Detainees launched the hunger strike more than four months ago to protest their indefinite detention, including dozens who have been cleared as posing no imminent threat to the United States.

According to the Pentagon's latest tally, 80 out of 166 detainees are on hunger strike, 46 on a list for possible feeding through nasal tubes.

Several Democrats at the hearing agreed with the doctor's testimony, with Senator Dianne Feinstein repeating her calls to end force-feeding.

"This behavior (hunger strike) is a form of protest. It's not an attempt at suicide," said Feinstein, who recently visited the prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

To coincide with the hearing, activists from different religious faiths organized a 24-hour "fast to close Guantanamo" to focus attention on the hunger strike at the US prison in southeast Cuba.

But Senator Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, defended the prison and said detainees were held in "conditions that meet or surpass the standards provided for under the Geneva Conventions."

As some protesters in the hall jeered, Pompeo dismissed the hunger strike as a "political stunt" fomented by defense lawyers.

"It's orchestrated or encouraged, at least in part, by counsel for the detainees and should not be rewarded. Claims that the efforts by our guards to force-feed these Gitmo detainees currently refusing nutrition are inhumane and should be ceased are simply wrong," he said.

US officials defend the force-feeding as part of their obligation to ensure the health and safety of the detainees.

President Barack Obama's administration also is anxious to avoid a politically-damaging scenario in which hunger strikers starve to death, similar to the situation faced by the British government in Northern Ireland during the 1980s.

Irish Republican Army prisoners opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland went on hunger strike in 1981 and ten eventually died, including Bobby Sands, who got elected to the British parliament during his strike.

Media coverage drew international sympathy for the hunger strikers and resulted in an escalation of violence in Northern Ireland.

Obama promised as a candidate in 2008 to close the Guantanamo prison but has been thwarted in part by Republicans in Congress.

He has renewed a vow to shut the detention center and recently announced plans to lift a moratorium on transferring Yemeni detainees back to their home country.

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