As the controversy surrounding force-feeding tactics at Guantanamo Bay continues, two top members of the U.S. Senate have spoken out in favor of ending the practice. Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein called on President Obama to stop force-feeding prisoners partaking in hunger strikes in protest of their status at Guantanamo. This comes just days after a U.S. District Court Judge handed down a ruling stating that federal courts have no authority to shut down the force-feeding program, but agreeing with detainees and their attorneys that the practice is troubling and may violate human rights. The decision put the burden solely on President Obama to address the situation, and it looks like he will be receiving pressure from Congress as well.
Senators Durbin and Feinstein did imply that there may be cases where force-feeding is medically necessary, but stated that the military does not observe proper guidelines and safeguards even in those cases. This was not Senator Feinstein’s first attempt at convincing the government to stop force-feeding. Last month she wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after a visit to Guantanamo in which she called hunger strikes a “long-known form of non-violent protest aimed at bringing attention to a cause, rather than an attempt of suicide.” This seems to imply that Feinstein’s views are in line with others who believe that force-feeding is inhumane in instances where protests do not threaten Guantanamo personnel and involve mentally competent detainees.
The White House turned to its usual response, stating that it does not want any detainees to die of malnutrition while in detention. So it’s ok to hold them indefinitely with no hope of release even though we lack the necessary evidence to press charges, but it’s not ok for them to protest a largely unreasonable policy in a manner that poses no threat to the United States or its military personnel. Got it.
The Senators also called on President Obama to make good on his long overdue promise to close Guantanamo Bay altogether, which was just another drop in the proverbial ocean of similar requests made since Obama took office. As sad as it is, it’s almost laughable at this point to think that another request to close Guantanamo will make a difference with so many members of Congress still in favor of keeping it open. But I guess it’s nice to know that there are still politicians out there who believe that it can be accomplished.
Do I think this latest effort to stop force-feeding and close Guantanamo will make any difference? Not really. Like I’ve said before, closing Guantanamo will be a long, painful process and there are still too many people who want to keep it open. It’s not a groundbreaking prediction but I don’t think Guantanamo Bay will be closed any time in the near future. I think our short-term goal needs to be putting an end to force-feeding. If you believe Monday’s decision, we should be able to sidestep much of the political process and leave it up to President Obama if we focus on that. That doesn’t mean we should abandon efforts to close the base, but we need to focus on the immediate problems that we can fix right now.
In a related story, two hunger-strikers dropped out of the over 4 month-long protest for unspecified reasons, bringing the total number down to 104. However, 45 are still being force-fed on a daily basis.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research