A federal trial judge in Washington today declined to force the government to stop the force-feeding of a group of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay naval facility.
The judge, Gladys Kessler of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said she felt "constrained" in refusing to grant an injunction blocking the continued force-feeding of a group of detainees who are participating in a hunger strike. Kessler's ruling is here.
Despite statements from the U.S. Justice Department that detainees receive "timely, compassionate" health care, the judge wrote today, "it is perfectly clear… that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating and degrading process."
Kessler, citing her lack of power to terminate the process, said she was obligated to dismiss the request lodged by the lawyers representing four detainees. Still, the judge said, "there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue." Kessler pointed to President Barack Obama.
Quoting directly from Obama's May 23 national security speech, Kessler wrote: "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?"
Kessler said the "President of the United, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority—and power—to directly address the issue of force-feeding of detainees at Guantánamo Bay."
The Justice Department, in defending the force-feeding last week, argued the public interest "lies with maintaining the status quo." DOJ lawyers wrote in their papers: "The public interest surely lies in preserving the health and safety and persons held in government custody, for whose welfare the public has assumed responsibility."
Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer representing detainees who sued over force-feeding, said in an email last week in response to the Justice Department position that "the status quo is that these men are being held indefinitely without any sort of trial, even though they were cleared for release years ago."
"Force-feeding to maintain that sort of ‘status quo,’ which is a clear violation of human rights, is barbaric,” said Eisenberg of Oakland's Horvitz & Levy.