ResourcesPress Release

PHR Expert Testifies at Congressional Hearing on Guantánamo

Dr. Stephen Xenakis Asks to Stop Force Feeding and Indefinite Detention

For Immediate Release

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) anti-torture expert, asked to immediately end force feeding of Guantánamo detainees during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this afternoon. Xenakis said force feeding is painful and degrading, and violates medical guidelines by undermining the doctor-patient relationship, and engaging health professionals in the use of force against the detainees.

Force-feeding at Guantánamo must end,” Xenakis said in his written testimony. “It is unethical, an affront to human dignity, and a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of our Geneva Convention obligations. It simulates the conditions of torture and abuse that many detainees had already suffered.” 

Xenakis, a psychiatrist and a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, has served as a medical expert in numerous cases involving Guantánamo detainees, and has cumulatively spent nearly three months at the base over the last 4 ½ years. He has reviewed the files of about 50 detainees, has evaluated some of the hunger strikers, and published an analysis of detainees’ medical records that found diagnoses associated with trauma, abuse and torture.

In his written testimony, Xenakis discussed the harsh and oppressive conditions at the base that led to the hunger strike, and explained how force feeding violates medical ethics.

Physicians are not independent, and are instructed to follow a protocol for enteral feeding that overrides medical professionalism,” Xenakis said. “They do not counsel detainees about options, much less help them prepare advance directives.  They participate in the coercive process, including – according to the protocol – being expected to order physical restraints for force feeding.”

His recommendations also include:

  • providing independent medical evaluations for hunger strikers, followed by appropriate treatment and counseling
  • rescinding all directives and protocols that provide that health professionals should act as adjuncts of security officials in order to ensure their professional independence
  • ensuring that hunger strikers are not punished, whether this means putting them in isolation, denying them communal areas, or other benefits
  • addressing the underlying issues behind the hunger strike, ranging from releasing detainees who have been cleared to ending the harsh confinement conditions

Xenakis was one of several witnesses testifying during “Closing Guantánamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications,” a hearing held by Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

A copy of his testimony can be found here.

PHR has repeatedly called to end force feeding, asked for independent medical care for the hunger strikers, and sought the release of detainees who have been cleared for release. PHR has also been calling for the release of information on the past use of torture, and has documented the harms of solitary confinement and indefinite detention.

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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Kevin Short

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