Gitmo Defends Force-Feeding Tactics Lawyers for detainees at Guantanamo Bay say officials are using tough tactics to break a months-long hunger strike, including force-feeding and restraining inmates who refuse to eat. Bush administration officials defend the tactics, saying they don't want anyone to die.

Gitmo Defends Force-Feeding Tactics

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News this is All THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. There's new development to tell you about in the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Lawyers for some of the approximately 500 detainees there say that the military is using tough new tactics to break the months-long strike. The military says it has to do everything it can to make sure that none of the prisoners dies. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.


In early August, a small group of Guantanamo detainees began a hunger strike. Many more quickly joined in until about 130 prisoners were living on fluids only. Over the month, those numbers fluctuated. At the end of December, 84 detainees were still striking. Today, only four remain. Neil Koslowe, a lawyer at Sherman and Sterling who represents several Kuwaitis being held at Guantanamo, says that the military is using restraint chairs to force feed the strikers.

Mr. NEIL KOSLOWE (Lawyer for Kuwaiti Strikers, Sherman Sterling): It's a metal chair which ties down the detainees in six positions. They force open their mouths and then they shove down their mouths nutritional supplements mixed with milk of magnesia and other ingredients. They get nauseous. They vomit. They defecate over themselves. They urinate over themselves. And they're kept strapped in that condition throughout this process.

NORTHAM: Koslowe says one of his clients endured about four days of this procedure until he agreed to give up his strike. Another decided to start eating again after he heard his neighbor go through the procedure.

Mr. KOSLOWE: He could hear the man screaming in pain, and after the procedure was over, the man told him don't go through this. It's just too awful.

NORTHAM: Koslowe says using the restrain chairs is both degrading and barbaric. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, disagrees with that characterization.

Mr. BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon Spokesman): This process and procedure is done in a controlled environment with the health and safety of the detainee first and foremost in mind.

NORTHAM: And, Whitman says, the restraint chairs are used only when necessary.

Mr. WHITMAN: It is the department policy to preserve life through lawful, clinical means. It's done in humane fashion, and it's completely consistent with processes that are used in the United States in our federal corrections facilities.

NORTHAM: But Leonard Rubenstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, says in federal prisons inmates can at least make better informed decisions about whether to continue a hunger strike. The Guantanamo detainees have virtually no access to the outside world.

Dr. LEONARD RUBENSTEIN (Executive Director, Physicians for Human Rights): The ethical rules do say that if the hunger striker is confused or not able to make an informed decision, the doctor can make a decision to feed. The problem here is that the prisoners haven't had any opportunity to have good independent medical and non-medical advice and evaluation.

NORTHAM: Rubenstein says if a detainee has to be forcibly restrained in order to feed him, it's clear he doesn't want to eat. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.