A federal judge declined to intervene in the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay yesterday, writing that the law bars civilian courts from interfering with how the inmates are treated.
The force-feeding of hunger striking inmates has become a flash point of controversy at Gitmo, with lawyers for many of the detainees’ alleging that the practice amounts to torture. Lawyers for Mohammed Bawazir had sought to stop detention center staff from using restraining chairs during the feedings, claiming that their client was willing to co-operate with the medical staff without the use of force.
In denying the request, Senior Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that she would not second guess the judgment of Gitmo’s officers because the force feedings did not demonstrate a “deliberate indifference” to Bawazir’s medical needs, and because removing restraints could pose a risk to the detention center’s staff, who in the past had been assaulted by violent prisoners resisting the feedings.
But perhaps importantly, she wrote that despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which gave prisoners habeas corpus rights, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 still banned the courts from ruling on issues relating to the living conditions at Guantanamo.
In striking down language which stripped habeas jurisdiction from the federal courts, the Supreme Court had intended to make a narrow ruling that left the rest of the act intact, she wrote. She noted that the justices had “refused to address ‘the writ with respect to claims of unlawful treatment or confinement.”
This was the third attempt to Bawazir’s lawyers to get a court order barring the use of restraining chairs. In their motion, the lawyers described the feedings as a “needlessly painful” process, in which inmates were tightly strapped down to the chair by the forehead, limbs and torso, before having a feeding tube inserted into their stomach through their nose without the use of anesthesia or lubricant.
They added that since August, “riot squad personnel began to administer force-feedings in place of medical personnel, acting in a wantonly violent and medically unsound manner that has left detainees shackled to restraint chairs for hours on end covered in their own blood and vomit. This process was curbed only after detainees smeared themselves with their own excrement in protest.”
The government argued that the restraints had only become necessary after the hunger strikers turned violent, attacking nurses and other staff members, while refusing nourishment, often by vomiting it up after their feedings. They also claimed that the restraint chairs were the same as the type often used in U.S. prisons.