The restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is seen on June 26. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)
President Barack Obama should end the painful and degrading practice of force-feeding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and we'd ask him to consider the wise words on the issue from an international leader: President Barack Obama.
On Monday, federal Judge Gladys Kessler said she could not stop the practice in which feeding tubes are forcibly inserted through the nostrils and snaked into the stomachs of prisoners who are restrained in chairs. Forty-five of 106 detainees at Guantanamo Bay currently on hunger strike are being force-fed now.
Kessler said she had no authority to intervene in the treatment of Guatanamo prisoners, citing previous court rulings that courts had no power over the "conditions of confinement" of those "properly detained as an enemy combatant."
But the judge also said there "appears to be a consensus" that force-feeding violates international law, specifically Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bars "torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment."
In May, United Nations officials also hammered home this point, telling Agence France-Presse that the World Medical Association, of which the U.S. is a member, declared in 1991 that forced-feedings are a violation of medical ethics.
"Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment," the organization said.
Artificial feeding can only be used if a prisoner agrees to it or is unable to make a competent decision on the practice, the association said.
That also comports with the beliefs of the American Medical Association, whose president told military officials earlier this year that doctors involved in forced feedings were violating "core ethical values of the medical profession."
We understand that some will argue it's cruel to allow prisoners to starve themselves. After all, the argument goes, we wouldn't allow prisoners to hang themselves or otherwise harm themselves.
But that's different. The issue here is the invasive nature of forced-feedings. The "force" is the problem.
Kessler said that while she was powerless in the case, there was one person who could stop the practice: Obama. And she quoted the president's words from a speech in May.
"Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike," Obama said in the portion of the speech Kessler quoted. "Is that who we are?"
Well, Mr. President, it's time to show us who you are.
--The Denver Post, July 11