The U.S. Justice Department today defended the continued force-feeding of hunger-striking detainees at Guantánamo Bay, arguing the measure is administered humanely to support the preservation of the prisoner's health and life and that no judge has the authority to block the effort.
The government's argument was laid out in a 20-page document filed today in Washington federal district court in response to a challenge, brought by four detainees, to the continued forced-feeding. Joint Task Force- Guantánamo has designated 106 detainees as hunger-strikers; 45 of the detainees have been approved to force-feeding, the Justice Department said.
Cori Crider of the human rights group Reprieve and Jon Eisenberg of Oakland's Horvitz & Levy, among the lawyers representing the challengers, on June 30 filed an application seeking an injunction to block the continued forced-feeding of detainees at the U.S. Navy facility in Cuba.
"Given the harm that indefinite detention is known to cause its victims, and given its violation of international human rights law and the Anglo-American legal tradition, force-feeding to prolong such detention cannot serve any penological interest," Eisenberg and Crider wrote in their court papers. "Indefinite detention is un-American."
The detainees "did not come lightly to the request they make in this application," the lawyers wrote. "But after 11 years of limbo at Guantánamo Bay, they have sensibly concluded that they will never be charged and will never be released." The continued detention, the lawyers said in their papers, "is solely the function of a political stalemate between the President and the Congress."
Justice Department lawyers, including Andrew Warden, Timothy Walthall and Daniel Barish of the Civil Division's federal programs branch, today urged U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer to reject the detainees' request for an injunction.
The public interest, the Justice Department attorneys said, "lies with maintaining the status quo. The public interest surely lies in preserving the health and safety of persons held in government custody, for whose welfare the public has assumed responsibility, and in avoiding the threat to good order, and to the safety of detainees and military personnel alike, should hunger-striking detainees be allowed to perish."
The government's lawyers said base personnel "make every effort to accommodate the religious and cultural practice of detainees." Commanders will "modify the hours of meal delivery, including enteral feeding, in accordance with the Ramadan fasting hours," DOJ attorneys said in their papers. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins at sundown July 8.
The Justice Department argued that Collyer, the presiding trial judge, doesn’t have power to consider a "conditions-of-confinement and treatment request" to block the government from "providing essential nutritional and medical care."
The challengers, the government lawyers also argue, cite no case "in which a court has enjoined a government official from providing life-saving medical and nutritional care to a hunger-striking detainee in government custody. Indeed, such an order would functionally authorize a detainee to commit suicide by starvation."
Eisenberg and Crider argued in their papers that the alternative to force-feeding detainees is this: "promptly bring them to trial or military commission proceedings, the absence of which is the reason why they are hunger striking." (The four detainees who brought the legal challenge have been cleared for release.)
"There cannot be a legitimate penological interest in force-feeding petitioners to prolong their indefinite detention," the attorneys wrote. "It facilitates the violation of a fundamental human right. The very notion of it is grotesque."