US force-feeding quarter of Guantanamo prisoners as hunger strike grows


A group of detainees kneels during early morning prayer in the camp at the US military prison for "enemy combatants" on Oct. 28, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


John Moore

American authorities are now force-feeding 41 detainees held at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the Guardian, accounting for a full quarter of the prison population. 

US President Barack Obama vowed years ago to close the controversial prison, where a total of 166 "high value" detainees are being held on unclear legal grounds and very few convicted.

Force-feeding is reportedly on equally shaky legal ground. Dozens of human rights organizations recently sent a sharply worded letter to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling for a end to the practice. The World Medical Association's 2006 Malta Declaration states unequivocally: "Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable."

The Red Cross and the American Medical Association have also questioned the morality of force-feeding prisoners, arguing that detainees have a right to their own bodies provided they are of sane minds.

None of this has prevented US authorities from strapping prisoners down and forcing food tubes down their noses, however. 

GlobalPost analysis: Forever Gitmo

Military officials told The Washington Post that four detainees on hunger strike have been hospitalized, but Lt. Col. Samuel House, representing Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said no lives were at risk. 

The US military issued a statement Thursday saying 103 detainees are on hunger strike in protest of their continued detainment.

A small group of prisoners at Guantanamo went on hunger strike in February, but many detainees have joined since then. 

"The hunger strike grows for two reasons: the military's refusal to negotiate with the men in a productive way and because the president has taken no action in spite of his words," Carlos Warner, a lawyer who represents several striking Guantanamo detainees, told the Guardian

Obama revisited his promise to close Guantanamo in a major foreign policy speech on May 23, in which he announced 86 detainees held at the center will be moved to detention facilities in their home countries.