An inmate at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, took to the pages of The New York Times to tell about the degradation and misery the hunger strikers are experiencing at the prison. His name is Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, and he can only "write" by dictating to his lawyers, through a translator, over the phone. Moqbel and his fellow strikers are tied down and force-fed twice a day, often painfully. “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose,” he writes. “I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.” Moqbel, who has been imprisoned for 11 years and three months, has been fasting since February 10.
Over the weekend, after the Red Cross had left and during a media blackout, prisoners and military guards clashed as the authorities attempted to end the protest by moving prisoners from the communal blocks into individual cells, a step back toward the Bush administration's maximum security-style detention policies. The protests were sparked by what prisoners say was mistreatment of their Qurans during searches, but Moqbel writes that its aims are broad: "I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late."
Documents from 2008 published by the Times indicate that Moqbel was captured in December 2001 and identified as a guard for Bin Laden. Moqbel obviously disputes this claim.
Most human rights groups object to the practice of forced feedings of hunger striking prisoners. Carol Rosenberg quotes Physicians for Human Rights:
The U.S. advocacy group, Physicians for Human Rights, argues that force-feeding hunger strikers is a violation of medical ethics.
“If someone who is mentally competent expresses the wish not to be fed or hydrated, medical personnel are ethically obligated to accede to that person’s wishes,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, an expert with the rights group. “Under those circumstances, to go ahead and force-feed a person is not only an ethical violation but may rise to the level of torture or ill-treatment.”
At their website, the ICRC explains their position:
The ICRC is opposed to forced feeding or forced treatment; it is essential that the detainees’ choices be respected and their human dignity preserved. The ICRC’s position on this issue closely corresponds to that expressed by the World Medical Association in the Malta and Tokyo Declarations, both revised 2006. The latter states: “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. The decision as to the capacity of the prisoner to form such a judgment should be confirmed by at least one other independent physician. The consequences of the refusal of nourishment shall be explained by the physician to the prisoner.”
The Red Cross position, as is that of other international medical groups, is that when it comes to eating, prisoners have the right to choose their fate.
Physicians for Human Rights, argues that force-feeding hunger strikers is a violation of medical ethics:
"If someone who is mentally competent expresses the wish not to be fed or hydrated, medical personnel are ethically obligated to accede to that person's wishes," said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, an expert with the rights group. "Under those circumstances, to go ahead and force-feed a person is not only an ethical violation but may rise to the level of torture or ill-treatment."
Earlier this month, McClatchy reported that one Gitmo detainee's parents traveled from their home 60 miles outside Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, to protest outside the U.S. Embassy here. In the coming weeks, a delegation of senior Yemeni officials – including the country’s foreign minister and its minister of human rights, as well as intelligence officers – is hoping to visit Guantanamo Bay, where dozens of detainees currently are conducting a hunger strike to protest their indefinite imprisonment without trial:
In an interview with McClatchy, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s minister of human rights, cast the ongoing hunger strike as the catalyst for seeking to visit Guantanamo. At least 41 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are refusing food, the Pentagon has said, in a protest that U.S. officials say began in March and that lawyers for the detainees say began in February.
But Mashour said that ultimately Yemen wants Obama to fulfill his previous promise to close the Guantanamo detention center and either send the detainees home or have them face criminal charges.
“For them to spend such a long time without trial is simply lawless,” she said. Mashour said that was especially true of the 25 Yemenis, including Shabati, whom she said the United States has cleared for release but is still holding.
On Friday, the United Nations’ top human rights official, Navi Pillay, reiterated her calls that the Guantanamo detention center be closed. “The continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law,” she said.
According to U.S. government records made public by WikiLeaks, U.S. intelligence operatives at Guantanamo recommended as far back as January 2007, if not earlier, that Shabati was eligible for return to his native Yemen. The Obama administration then conducted its own reviews, and notified the courts in September 2012 that he was among 56 Guantanamo captives approved for release, if Congress lifts restrictions and international political conditions make transfer possible.
Also revealed in a Wikileaks publication, a secret 2008 dossier on Moqbel drafted by the Pentagon, the detainee’s name has been found on al-Qaeda documents, and he allegedly admitted during at least one of the interrogation sessions that he has been subjected to regularly for over a decade to taking up arms with the group. But in that same detainee assessment released by the whistleblower site, DoD officials say Moqbel poses a low threat to prison personnel and is of only medium intelligence value.
A federal judge today declined to get the courts involved on behalf of the hunger strikers.