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Guantanamo hunger strikers force-fed

October 16, 2005

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GUANTANAMO BAY, Oct 15: Authorities at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay have acknowledged to visiting Muslim journalists that some prisoners in their custody have been force-fed to end their hunger strike.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said last week that prisoners were on hunger strike at the camp and that the situation here was serious.

Spokeswoman Antonella Notari, however, declined to comment on a defence lawyer’s statement that 200 of some 500 prisoners were on hunger strike and that 21 were being force-fed.

“Yes, prisoners have been force-fed,” said Capt John S. Edmondson, the Commander of the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo. “We are feeding a diet of protein, glucose and fat to 24 prisoners,” with tubes pushed into their stomachs through their noses, to keep them alive, he said.

Dr Edmondson said 131 prisoners were on hunger strike on the fourth anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks, adding that the longest hunger strike was for seven weeks with an average of two weeks per striking prisoner. During Ramazan, he said, the prisoners were fed at night so that their religious rights were not violated, indicating that the hunger strike had continued in the month.

“Some prisoners are refusing to eat because they say they are not getting a fair trial,” said Dr Edmondson. “Others have other motives, such as showing defiance or simply getting attention,” he said.

Force-feeding is not banned under international law, but the World Medical Association declaration, endorsed by the American Medical Association, says doctors should not participate in it.

Amnesty International and human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who represents some 40 detainees, said last week that the prisoners were shackled to their beds 24 hours a day to stop them from removing their tubes. He said Oct 6 was the 56th day of the hunger strike and claimed that the situation was comparable to a campaign of 1981, when 10 prisoners starved themselves to death in protest against British policy in Northern Ireland.

Dr Edmondson, however, disagreed with such assertions saying that no lives were at risk at the prison and no prisoner had died in US custody so far, “not even of natural causes.”