|Last issue, we reported that “there is significant evidence that the US military, in an effort to avoid scandal … and to break the potency of the [hunger strike undertaken by the Guantánamo prisoners], has been physically restraining and force feeding the hunger strikers” . (‘Guantánamo – a focus on imperialist brutality’, Proletarian, Feb/Mar 2006)
This “significant evidence” has now given way to incontrovertible evidence that the US is engaging in force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, something which is universally acknowledged to be an act of torture (according to BBC News Online of 3 March, the “UN Human Rights Commission said recently that it regarded force-feeding at Guantánamo as a form of torture” ). US doctors are legally bound to observe the right to hunger strike by Article 5 of the 1975 World Medical Association Tokyo Declaration, which states that doctors must not undertake force-feeding under any circumstances:
“Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. The decision as to the capacity of the prisoner to form such a judgment should be confirmed by at least one other independent physician. The consequences of the refusal of nourishment shall be explained by the physician to the prisoner.”
Responding to text from an affidavit of Captain John S Edmondson, commander of Guantánamo's hospital, where Edmondson details the methods used to force-feed prisoners (including use of morphine where considered necessary to reduce the pain of nasal tube insertion), Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at Queen Elizabeth's hospital in Birmingham, stated: “If I were to do what Edmondson describes in his statement, I would be referred to the General Medical Council and charged with assault.” (Cited in ‘Scandal of force-fed prisoners’, The Observer, 8 January 2006)
BBC News Online published (on 3 March) the transcripts of an interview it had conducted with Kuwaiti Guantánamo detainee Fawzi al-Odah (via his lawyer – journalists are not allowed to speak to the detainees). With regard to torture, al-Odah made some shocking revelations:
“They told me: if you continue the hunger strike, you will be punished. First, they took my comfort items away from me one by one. You know, my blanket, my towel, my long pants, then my shoes. I was put in isolation for 10 days. Then, an officer came in and read me an order from General Hood [commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay].
“It said if you refuse to eat, we will put you on the chair – these are special, new metal chairs they have brought to Guantanamo – that you will be strapped up and down very tightly in the chair and that liquid food would be forced into me using a thicker tube with a metal edge. The tube would no longer be left in all the time, but would be forced in and pulled out at each feeding, and that this would happen three times a day. I told him: ‘This is torture.’
“He said to me: ‘Call it whatever you like – this is the way it's going to be: we're going to break this hunger strike.’
“One guy, a Saudi, told me that he had once been tortured in Saudi Arabia and that this metal chair treatment was worse than any torture he had ever endured or could imagine. They gave these formulas on purpose to make them defecate and urinate and throw up on themselves.
“I would still be on this strike if I had any choice. Death is better than continuing life like this.”
In answer to the question “have you been tortured?”, al- Odah continued:
“I don't want to repeat it again. No details here. But I was tortured badly in Kandahar. I was tortured here, too. I was beaten up badly at first when I was brought here. Also, when I first started on this last hunger strike, they abused us badly. They pulled the tubes in and out. If I resisted or tried to take the tubes out, they would strap me down, hold my head back and force the tubes in and out causing a lot more pain. It was useless to resist.”
This type of behaviour on the part of the US state is so shocking that it prompted a group of over 250 leading doctors from Britain, the US, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Italy and Holland to send an open letter to respected medical journal The Lancet urging “the US government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as force-feeding and restraint chairs are abandoned”.
In a report that is well worth reading, written in response to a US report criticising China’s human rights record, China’s State Council points out the extraordinary hypocrisy of the US’s human rights stance: “For years, the US government has ignored and deliberately concealed serious violations of human rights in its own country for fear of criticism. Yet it has issued annual reports making unwarranted charges on human rights practices of other countries, an act that fully exposes its hypocrisy and double standard on human rights issues, which has naturally met with strong resistance and opposition from other countries. We urge the US government to look squarely at its own human rights problems, reflect what it has done in the human rights field and take concrete measures to improve its own human rights status.” (‘The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2005’, http://news.xinhuanet.com, 9 March 2006)
Release the Guantánamo prisoners now
We add our voice to the worldwide condemnation of these despicable, stomach-curdling practices of the US, remembering that similar practices were used by our ‘own’ British state not so long ago to terrorise the Irish population. Furthermore, we repeat our demand that all prisoners being detained at Guantánamo should be released and returned to their countries of origin without further delay. As has been much publicised, many of the detainees did not have anything to do with the Afghani or any other resistance against imperialist intervention – they just happened to be Arabs/muslims in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, we must also call for the release of those who were involved in resisting the imperialist profit-driven onslaught, as it is the right of peoples everywhere to defend their countries from invasion and occupation.
The by-product of the terrible and barbarous crimes that imperialism commits in the name of greed is a fuelling of the anti-imperialist hatred of all oppressed and progressive people, and this by-product will, in time, come to be a far more important historical force than the direct intended results of these crimes (ie, the intimidation of the oppressed). History, driven by the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle of the workers and oppressed peoples of the world, will bring the perpetrators to justice.