Shaker Aamer and Other Prisoners Ask US Court to Stop the Force-Feeding and Forced Medication at Guantánamo

by Andy Worthington | July 1, 2013

Lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and co-counsel Jon B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C. on Sunday evening, on behalf of four prisoners in Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The motion was submitted in response to the authorities’ force-feeding and forced medication of hunger strikers engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike that will enter its sixth month on Saturday.

According to the authorities, 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, protesting about their indefinite detention, but according to the prisoners themselves the total is at least 120.

The motion, available here, asks Judge Rosemary Collyer to issue a ruling to compel the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as Reprieve put it in a press release. Please also see additional submissions by Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, and by Steven Miles, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, and by Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer with 28 years of active service, who is now an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Shaker Aamer is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama, which issued its recommendations three and half years ago. The three other prisoners represented in the motion — Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — were also cleared for release three and a half years ago, but are still held despite President Obama’s promise to overcome restrictions imposed by Congress and resume releasing prisoners, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23; in other words, nearly six weeks ago. Since that time, not a single prisoner has yet been released.

In a declaration that accompanied the motion, Ahmed Belbacha, who is currently one of 44 prisoners being force-fed, stated, “I am participating in this hunger strike of my own free choice … hunger striking is the sole peaceful means that I have to protest my indefinite detention.” Nabil Hadjarab, who is also being force-fed, added, “I do not want to die, but I am prepared to. All I am asking is that I be given the choice whether to eat.”

In the Guantánamo authorities’ Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with hunger strikers, updated since the prison-wide under strike began in February, which was obtained through FOIA legislation by Jason Leopold of Al-Jazeera, the use of Reglan was recommended during force-feeding (also see here). As Reprieve explained, “Medical studies into the drug have determined that prolonged use of Reglan also is linked to a high rate of tardive dyskinesia (TD), a potentially irreversible and disfiguring disorder characterized by involuntary movements of the face, tongue, or extremities.”

Cori Crider said, “After nearly a dozen years of limbo, the last thing my clients feel they have left is the basic dignity of choosing what goes into their bodies. For the US military to strip this final right from them is appalling — which is why everyone from the head of the American Medical Association to President Obama has condemned force-feeding. Nabil and the other prisoners need Obama to wake up to the crisis in Guantánamo, which is the worst he will face of his presidency. History will closely study how these men were treated.”

Jon B. Eisenberg said, “Force-feeding of prisoners is inhumane and a violation of medical ethics. When it is done for the purpose of keeping Guantánamo detainees alive so that they may continue to be held indefinitely without a trial of any sort, it is nothing short of grotesque. President Obama has himself condemned the force-feeding, but he has not seen fit to stop it. His deeds have not matched his soaring rhetoric.”

The lawyers also made a point of urging the court to intervene to prevent the prisoners from being force-fed during the daylight hours of Ramadan, which starts on July 8. The motion states, “Petitioners request an expeditious hearing on this application because of the extreme nature of the human rights and medical ethics violations that result from petitioners’ force-feeding, and because of the imminent risk that it will deprive them of the ability to observe the Ramadan fast, which commences this year on July 8.”

As Reprieve put it in a second press release, the government “has yet to clarify whether prisoners will continue to be force-fed during daylight hours in Ramadan.” Justice Department officials “indicated to Reprieve on Friday that it would oppose any request to stop force-feeding, including daytime feeding during Ramadan.”

In the District Court on Monday, Judge Collyer responded to the prisoners’ request, ordering the government to “file a response to the motion for preliminary injunction no later than 12:00 p.m. Eastern on July 3, 2013.”

Responding to the news, Cori Crider said, “This crisis could end, if only President Obama would start transferring cleared people, as he has the power to do. But my clients have seen no action. They cannot take years of more uncertainty about their fate. If the Gitmo authorities intend to force-feed these people during the daytime in Ramadan, it will only add insult to injury.”

It will indeed, and I add my voice to those of the lawyers and the prisoners themselves, calling for President Obama to mark Ramadan not by force-feeding prisoners, but by freeing them.

This article originally appeared on Andy Worthington's website on July 1, 2013.