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Terror Tuesday: US displays its ‘cultural sensitivity’ and cruelty on this, the first day of Ramadan

Click here to watch the video of Yasiin Bey subjecting himself to the GTMO standard operating procedure for force feeding. WARNING: Very disturbing. Image: Still from video.

The US military has just promised the Guantanamo hunger strikers a Ramadan present. As the hunger strike reaches the fifth day of its fifth month, a Guantanamo spokesman has said that 45 of the 106 hunger strikers will be force fed after sundown, so they will be able to observe their Ramadan dawn-to-dusk fast.

Yes, you can fast and we will provide you with a truly unique form of Iftar – the evening meal to break the fast. It turns out that this form of grotesque cruelty with a Kafkaesque flair “has been in place for years” – so says Colonel Greg Julian, director of public affairs for US southern command. He claims this policy is “consistent with our mission to safely detain while supporting the religious practices of those in US custody.”

The lawyers for four hunger-striking prisoners who filed a complaint in the US District Court for the DC Circuit and the UN human rights office have called the ‘enterel feed’ procedure torture. You only have to watch this harrowing video of Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) undergoing it to see why this is an accurate description.

The official ‘standard operating procedure’ published by Al Jazeera details the process by which hunger strikers are chained for up to two hours in restraint chairs and held down by up to six guards as nurses thrust tubes up their noses and down to their stomachs, a procedure that happens twice a day.

In addition to a liquid nutritional supplement being violently dripped into the bodies of the hunger strikers, the prisoners are also forced to ingest metoclopramide (brand name Reglan) to speed up digestion and prevent vomiting.

According to Jason Leopold, the drug “can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease…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.”

The dehumanizing and damaging practice of force-feeding has been denounced as unethical by the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association, the British Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Meanwhile, members of the Israeli Medical Association have been invited to the US to share their expertise and experience handling Palestinian hunger strikers.

On July 8, Judge Gladys Kessler of the DC District Court stated that “force-feeding is a painful, humiliating and degrading process,” but ruled that she did not have the power to block the force-feeding of detainees during Ramadan. This, she said, was a matter that had to be decided by President Obama. In her opinion, she quoted from Obama’s May 23 counter-terrorism speech: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw?”

Apparently it is who we are.

Among the four prisoners who had asked the DC District Court to bar force-feeding during Ramadan was Shaker Aamer, a UK-based detainee who was long ago cleared for release and has now been in Guantanamo for more than 11 years. His daughter Johina, who was four years old when her father disappeared from her life in 2002, made this poignant video, “What have you done in the last 11 years?”

What has President Obama done in the last 47 days since the counter-terrorism speech in which he announced he really did want to close Guantanamo and was lifting the moratorium on the transfer of detainees on Yemen, and also said he really didn’t want to kill innocent civilians with drones?

He appointed a new special envoy (Clifford Sloan) to look into the matter of transferring prisoners from Guantanamo, but not a single detainee has been moved from the prison. After pledging “near certainty that no civilians will be either killed or injured” in drone attacks, the president had nothing to say in response to a report that on June 9 a ten-year-old was killed by a drone strike in Yemen.

Fine words butter no parsnips”:  this may well be the defining phrase of the Obama presidency.  We must keep up the pressure!

Call the White House (202-456-1111, 202-456-1414), U.S. Southern Command (305-437-1213) and the Department of Defense (703-571-3343) to express your concern over the hunger strike and your outrage about the inhumane force-feeding of detainees, and demand that Guantanamo be closed once and for all.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.