The U.S. “War on Terror” prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, attracted renewed concern over the fate of over 100 inmates on hunger strike since February 6, after reports continued to surface about guards force-feeding them via nasal tubes.
Even as medical associations and human rights groups expressed consternation at the deteriorating situation there, President Barack Obama on Tuesday renewed his commitment to close down the prison, describing it as “expensive” and “inefficient”, which “hurts us in terms of our international standing”, and acts as a “recruitment tool for extremists”. It needs to be closed, he said.
Mr. Obama, while campaigning for the 2008 presidential polls, had promised to close the prison. He has since blamed the U.S. Congress for stymieing his efforts to either move the inmates to the U.S. mainland and face trial in a civilian court or transfer them back to their home nations, such as Afghanistan and Yemen. Human rights groups say 86 of the 166 inmates have been cleared for release.
In the view of some, the White House may not have been serious about closing the prison until now, especially after it shuttered an inmate resettlement office for the prison in January. However, this week, Mr. Obama vowed to take the issue back to Congress and “make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people”.
The President’s words may be small comfort to the 21 or more inmates said to be rotationally force fed by a 40-person military medical team that has arrived at the base “to keep the protesters alive”. Last month one among them, Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel (35) wrote an article headlined, “Gitmo Is Killing Me”, in The New York Times, in which he described his force-feeding as “cruel punishment”.
However, this week, Rupert Colville, Spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told media that force-feeding hunger strikers was a breach of international law, adding, “If it’s perceived as torture or inhuman treatment — and [if] it’s the case, it’s painful — then it is prohibited by international law.”
In addition, last week, the President of the American Medical Association (AMA) was said to have sent a letter to U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel “reiterating its [AMA’s] long-held position that it is a violation of medical ethics to force-feed mentally competent adults who refuse food and life-saving treatment”.