Guantanamo prison to synchronize force-feedings to Ramadan fast

A monitor shows prisoners inside their individual cells inside Guantanamo's communal prison compound. Cell B105 shows a prisoner standing in prayer - and B101 shows the black helmets and other riot gear U.S. forces used on the blocks during a prison riot in April 2013.


By CAROL ROSENBERG | The Miami Herald | Published: July 3, 2013

The U.S. prison at Guantánamo has sufficient military medical staff to synchronize forced-feedings to the Ramadan fast and will only feed hunger strikers after sunset and before dawn, a prison spokesman said Tuesday.

Navy Capt. Robert Durand said that the detention center had for years only fed Ramadan-observing detainees at night during Islam’s holy month, and this year would be no different — even with the majority of captives on hunger strike.

“We understand that observing the daytime fast and taking nothing by mouth or vein is an essential component of Muslim observance of Ramadan,” Durand said. “And for those detainees on hunger strike we will ensure that our preservation of life through enteral feeding does not violate the tenets of their faith.”

“Enteral feed” is Guantánamo’s term for the process by which U.S. soldiers shackle a captive into a restraint chair, often inside a prison cell, then a Navy nurse inserts a tube into the captive’s nose to deliver a nutritional supplement down the back of his throat and into his stomach.

As of Tuesday, the lockup with 166 foreign prisoners disclosed that 106 of the captives were on hunger strike. Of them, 45 were designated for nasogastric feedings. Three were being fed at the prison hospital Tuesday, said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, although none had “life threatening conditions.”

This will be the 12th Ramadan in U.S. captivity for most Guantánamo detainees. It begins at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba at sunset Monday.

Troops adjust their captives’ feeding schedules to after dark for those observing the fast, said Durand, and will still offer meals during the day for those who don’t fast. The prison has already “laid in supplies of lamb, dates and honey and zamzam water” — water from a well in Mecca, said Durand.

At Guantánamo, the prison has nearly 140 Navy medical workers — doctors, nurses, corpsmen — assigned exclusively to care for the captives. The staff includes 37 reinforcements sent by the U.S. Southern Command in April.

Durand said Tuesday that staffing was not issue. “We are confident that we will be able to provide life-preserving enteral feeds where necessary without violating a fundamental tenet of the Islamic faith.”

He made the commitment by telephone from Guantánamo in an interview with The Miami Herald a day after lawyers for four Guantánamo captives sought an emergency hearing at federal court in a bid to get a judge to order the Pentagon to stop force-feedings, as inhumane.

The lawyers for prisoners from Algeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia asked that, while the court considers the question, it prohibit daytime tube-feedings during Ramadan.

The advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations, in response to the suit, issued a statement of opposition to “force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, particularly during the upcoming month-long fast of Ramadan.”

Detainees say through their attorneys that the feedings are both painful and humiliating; the Pentagon defends the practice as routinely used on consenting U.S. hospital patients.

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