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Free Guantánamo Detainees Who Are Cleared for Release, PHR Urges President Obama

Hunger Strikes Are a Clear Sign of Distress and Forced Feeding Violates Medical Ethics

For Immediate Release

As a hunger strike by dozens of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay enters its third month, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls on President Obama to take immediate steps to free those who have been cleared for release and to treat remaining detainees in conformance with ethical guidelines and international law.

“Hunger strikes are a desperate act by people who have lost hope in the prospect of ever being released,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “It is unconscionable that we continue to imprison 86 men who have been determined to pose no threat to the United States. President Obama should exercise his authority to safely transfer these people to be released in other countries without further delay.”

A detention center spokesman said this week that 42 detainees have skipped at least nine consecutive meals and are therefore considered to be engaged in a hunger strike. It is unclear how many of them are awaiting release. The center currently holds 166 detainees.

“President Obama has yet to make good on his 2008 promise to close Guantánamo, where so many horrifically abusive acts took place during interrogations that were tantamount to torture,” McKay said. “In the meantime, the president has an obligation to make sure that people still being held there are treated in accordance with medically ethical practices and human rights conventions.”

About a dozen of the detainees on hunger strike are being force-fed, for example, in violation of medical ethics.

“If someone who is mentally competent expresses the wish not to be fed or hydrated, medical personnel are ethically obligated to accede to that person’s wishes,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical adviser. “Under those circumstances, to go ahead and force-feed a person is not only an ethical violation but may rise to the level of torture or ill-treatment.”

In addition, solitary confinement and indefinite detention compound the misery and sense of hopelessness among detainees, many of whom still suffer lasting effects from abusive interrogation and other harsh treatment.

“Medical personnel should never be used as instruments of pain or suffering,” said Dr. Iacopino. “The complicity of medical personnel in abusive interrogation practices and the forced feeding of hunger strikers has undermined the trust that is necessary for ethical medical treatment of Guantánamo detainees. It is time to stop such unethical medical practices and the use solitary confinement and indefinite detention at all national security facilities, to transfer remaining detainees to other appropriate facilities, and to close down Guantánamo for good.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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