Debate: Should the hunger-striking detainees in Guantanamo Bay be force-fed to keep them alive?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

Medical personnel have been sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to assist with the force-feeding of inmates who have been refusing food on the grounds of alleged mishandling of their Korans by guards and their detainment without trial in the notorious prison camp.

100 of the 166 held in Guantanamo by the US are currently on hunger-strike, with at least 21 already being force-fed, and 40 medical reinforcements have been dispatched from America to help keep the strikers alive.

President Obama defended the military's actions: "I don't want these individuals to die", he said.

But are the US right to prevent the prisoners from refusing food?

Case for: Humane

It might be a wretchedly drawn-out one, but hunger-striking is a suicide attempt, and guards are right to prevent prisoners from killing themselves. Imagine if US officials let these men die: their position would turn from morally questionable to simply indefensible, having let people starve to death waiting for trial or repatriation that might never have arrived. Failure to keep these men alive is, from a humanitarian perspective, abhorrent. Force-feeding might be ugly, but the alternative, death en masse, is far worse.

Case against: Torture

Presumably one reason the US is force-feeding these men is so that they face justice. But does anyone see justice, or the prospect of it, in Guantanamo? And if that can be ruled out as a defence, what is left? America's sense of squeamishness? Finally, the UN Commission for Human Rights said only yesterday force-feeding is ethically and legally unjustifiable: it is painful (tubes can go in through the nose or hand), so counts as torture - and it degrades the recipient, who is in full possession of their senses, so deserves to have their bodily integrity respected.