“I do not wish to die, but I am prepared to run the risk that I may end up doing so, because I am
protesting the fact that I have been locked up for more than a decade, without a trial, subjected to
inhuman and degrading treatment and denied access to justice. I have no other way to get my message across. You know that the authorities have taken everything from me.”
So reads a letter written by 13 hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay and published in the Guardian on May 30, requesting independent, civilian doctors. The strikers stated that they did not trust military doctors to provide adequate medical care, and accused them of putting their duty to their superiors above their duty to the patients.
Earlier this year, I reported that of the 166 prisoners still being held at the Guantánamo detention facility, 88 were on hunger strike to protest their open-ended detention. According to CNN, that number has now risen to 104, and 44 of the detainees have received “enteral feeding,” where a tube is inserted through the nose and down the throat to administer liquids.
150 Doctors Urge President Obama To Send Non-Military Doctors To Guantánamo
Responding to this letter, more than 150 doctors have signed an open letter to President Obama, urging him to allow Guantánamo detainees access to independent medical examinations and advice.
According to the authors of the letter, published in the Lancet:
It is clear that they do not trust their military doctors. They have very good reason for this, as you should know, from the current protocols of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which those doctors are ordered to follow. The orders they receive are ultimately your orders as their Commander-in-Chief. Without trust, safe and acceptable medical care of mentally competent patients is impossible. Since the detainees do not trust their military doctors, they are unlikely to comply with current medical advice.
That makes it imperative for them to have access to independent medical examination and advice, as they ask, and as required by the UN and World Medical Association.
Remember, these are suspected enemy fighters who have not been charged with any crimes. The government says the detainees are too dangerous to transfer but cannot be tried, characterizing them as war prisoners under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act.
Geneva Conventions Prohibit Force-Feeding
Furthermore, as Harper’s pointed out, writing about Guantanamo detainees:
They are being force-fed despite the departure of the administration that instituted force-feeding, despite the current administration’s order to shut down Guantánamo, and despite its even more specific order requiring prisoners there to be treated within the bounds of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which—by every interpretation but that of the U.S. government—clearly forbids force-feeding.
The detainee protest began last year, with five to six detainees starting and stopping hunger strikes. But the number grew after lawyers for some of those held drew attention to conditions at the facility, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman on detainee issues at the Pentagon, said earlier this year.
The open letter from the doctors came a day after the Obama adminstration was forced to identify 46 inmates at the military prison after the Miami Herald sued the federal government for the information.
The Obama administration first acknowledged that detainees were being held indefinitely in Guantanamo in 2010 but didn’t make their identities public until now.
Take Action Now
If you agree that these prisoners are being denied adequate medical care, please sign our petition asking President Obama to provide independent, non-military doctors to Guantánamo detainees.
The practice of force feeding at Guantanamo, and indeed at all U.S. prisons around the world, must end now.
Photo Credit: Truthout.org