Islamic community leaders are asking Barack Obama to stop the practice of force-feeding Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay who are on hunger strike during Ramadan.
The religious festival, which began on Tuesday, is marked by fasting during daylight hours in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR, described the practice of force-feeding as “in violation of international norms and medical ethics.” Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “We believe it's wrong to force-feed at any time but it is particularly upsetting to do it through Ramadan.”
Dr Azzam Tamimi, an Islamic community leader in Britain, said this practice was becoming “increasingly embarrassing for the US government”. He added: “It's about time President Obama took a brave decision to end this in a way that would be appreciated around the Islamic world.”
The issue is being challenged by lawyers representing four Guantanamo inmates, who say that force-feeding is both “inhumane” as a practice and would be even more distressing during Ramadan.
They argue that the procedure is “painful, inhumane, degrading, and a violation of medical ethics” for the prisoners and that “night-time only force-feeding seems problematic at best and possibly even dangerous to the detainees health”.
The lawyers filed a joint legal challenge with the District of Columbia federal court on 4 July, arguing that Guantanamo Bay will become a "force-feeding factory" after the government said they would try to respect the daylight fast by only force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike during the night.
In the petition, the lawyers highlight the 30 minutes it takes to force-feed a prisoner, plus the two-hours the men can be required to remain in a restraint chair for to ensure nutrients reach the stomach. The prisoner will also have to spend time in a ‘dry-cell’ after this process is finished to ensure they do not vomit or attempt to vomit.
"Force-feeding all 45 detainees during the night would leave just ten hours and 44 minutes for respondents to implement two force-feedings for up to an hour of feeding time," the petition continues, "and four hours of total observation time, which could require dozens of restraint chairs and hundreds of staff.”
In a bid to highlight the controversy surrounding the use of force-feeding, human rights charity Reprieve joined forces with director Asif Kapadia to reconstruct the force-feeding on rapper Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) as specified by instructions followed in Guantanamo and leaked to Al-Jazeera.
A spokesperson for Reprieve said that the men in Guantanamo, some of whom have been cleared for release for many years, are choosing to hunger strike to show their "desperation" at being detained "beyond the rule of the law".
The spokesperson said: “Worryingly, it appears that the Obama administration is prepared to force-feed Guantanamo prisoners during Ramadan in a desperate attempt to break the hunger-strike.
“There is a clear route open to President Obama in order to end this strike and help restore America’s reputation around the world: start freeing those prisoners who have been cleared for release by his own Government. He could direct his Defence Secretary to do so tomorrow if he chose – the only conclusion is that he lacks the political courage to do so.”