[art_thumbnail align=”center”]WASHINGTON—Lawyers for four Guantanamo detainees have criticised the Obama administration’s “equivocal” response over whether daytime force-feeding will take place during Ramadan, and warned that the prison may become “a veritable force-feeding factory” during the religious period.
In a reply filed today to the Government’s response to court proceedings brought by the four men, Guantanamo counsel Cori Crider, of human rights charity Reprieve, and Jon B Eisenberg propose that the US Government should consent to a court-enforceable decree to ensure that detainees’ religious rights are not violated.
They argue that this is necessary as Government lawyers have remained “silent…as to how they might implement nighttime-only force-feeding,” and as, given the high number currently being force-fed, “nighttime-only force-feeding seems problematic at best and possibly even dangerous to petitioners’ health.”
US authorities have claimed that they intend to only force-feed during the night, in order to avoid breaking the daytime fast which is the central feature of Ramadan. However, Lt. Col Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, told CNN this week that doing so “is an accommodation, not a right.”
Crider and Eisenberg add that, based on Guantanamo authorities’ own numbers, there will be “just 10 hours and 44 minutes [between sunset and sunrise] for respondents to implement two force-feedings of 45 detainees for up to an hour of feeding time and four hours of total observation time per detainee” which “could require dozens of restraint chairs and hundreds of staff.”
They warn that “if this can even be achieved, Guantanamo Bay will become a veritable force-feeding factory” and therefore propose “that respondents agree to a consent decree, enforceable by this Court, which will have the legal effect of securing the detainees’ rights to observe the Ramadan fast and to refuse the administration of [anti-nausea drug] Reglan.”
The attorneys for the four detainees – Shaker Aamer, Nabil Hadjarab, Ahmed Belbacha and Abu Wa’el Dhiab – also take issue with the Government lawyers’ claim that “the public interest lies with maintaining the status quo,” pointing to President Obama’s recent description of Guantanamo as “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.”
“We submit,” say Crider and Eisenberg, “that America’s public interest lies not in force-feeding the petitioners to prolong their indefinite detention, but in either trial or release as ‘ready alternatives’ to force-feeding.” They note that the US Government “insist[s] that petitioners’ force-feeding is necessary to prevent them from ‘lay[ing] waste to their bodies,’” and in response state that “Petitioners’ indefinite detention, however, is laying waste to their souls.”
The full document is available on request. Please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / 7791 755 415 / The argument on overnight feeding during Ramadan is as follows:
Perhaps tellingly, respondents do not disclaim any prolonged administration of Reglan to other detainees, saying only vaguely that Reglan is “very rarely used.”
With regard to force-feeding during Ramadan, respondents offer an equivocal assurance that, “absent any unforeseen emergency or operational issues, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (‘JTF-GTMO’) plans” to force-feed detainees only before dawn and after sunset. Resp.’s Opp. at 1-2 (emphasis added). Respondents are silent, however, as to how they might implement nighttime-only force-feeding. See id. at 17-18. Given the number currently being force-fed, which respondents now say is 45 detainees, see id. at 2, nighttime-only force-feeding seems problematic at best and possibly even dangerous to the detainees’ health.
According to respondents’ regulations, the force-feedings “are usually done two times a day” and are “[t]ypically” completed “over 20 to 30 minutes,” and the detainee is then placed in a “ ‘dry cell’ ” without access to water “for 45-60 minutes”—unless he vomits or attempts to vomit, in which case he can remain in the restraint chair for up to two hours. Joint Task Force Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Joint Medical Group, Medical Management of Detainees on Hunger Strike at 18 (March 5, 2013.) On July 9, 2013— the first full day of Ramadan this year—sunrise at Guantánamo Bay is at 6:28 a.m. and sunset is at 7:44 p.m. See Climatology: Sunrise/Sunset for Guantánamo Bay NAS, Cuba, http://in.weather.com/climate/sunRiseSunSet-Guantanamo-Bay-NASCUXX0016. That leaves just 10 hours and 44 minutes for respondents to implement two force-feedings of 45 detainees for up to an hour of feeding time and four hours of total observation time per detainee, which could require dozens of restraint chairs and hundreds of staff.
If this can even be achieved, Guantanamo Bay will become a veritable force-feeding factory. And the fasting detainees, who may not take water during the daylight hours of Ramadan, will be spending up to four more nighttime hours without access to water as well as being under physical restraint, putting them at substantial risk of dehydration and sleep deprivation.
We therefore propose that respondents agree to a consent decree, enforceable by this Court, which will have the legal effect of securing the detainees’ rights to observe the Ramadan fast and to refuse the administration of Reglan. Absent a consent decree, petitioners’ observation of the Ramadan fast will depend on the government’s largess and its ability to overcome numerous and repeatedly-acknowledged “operational issues.” Resp.’s Opp. at 2, 5, 17, exh. 1 at 6.
We also note that respondents have rebuffed petitioners’ assertion of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), see Appl. for Prelim. Inj. at 19-20, merely by citing Rasul v. Myers, 563 F.3d 527, 532 (D.C. Cir. 2009) for the proposition that “non-resident aliens are not protected ‘persons’ within the meaning of RFRA.” Resp.’s Opp. at 18. Respondents do not address petitioners’ point that this issue has been revived by Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). See Appl. for Prelim. Inj. at 19-20.) And it hardly advances international respect for American democracy when the Supreme Court treats corporations as “persons” but the President insists that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not.
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.