Jul 10 2013

Feinstein, Durbin to President: End Unnecessary Force-Feeding at Guantanamo

‘Imperative the administration outline a formal process to permanently close the Guantanamo facility’

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to end the unnecessary force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison.

“We…encourage you to direct the Department of Defense to stop conducting such large-scale force-feedings and, where force-feeding is medically necessary to save a detainee’s life, to observe the protections required at U.S. Bureau of Prisons facilities,” the senators wrote. “It is our understanding that the U.S. federal prison guidelines for force-feedings include several safeguards and oversight mechanisms that are not in place at Guantanamo Bay.

The senators added: “The growing problem of hunger strikes is due to the fact that many detainees have remained in legal limbo for more than a decade and have given up hope. This should be alarming to all of us, and it is imperative that the Administration outline a formal process to permanently close the Guantanamo facility as soon as possible. We look forward to continue working with you to achieve that end.”

Today’s letter to the president mentions an earlier letter sent by Senator Feinstein to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which is available here.

Full text of today’s letter follows:

July 10, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to use your Presidential authority to end the unnecessary force-feedings of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Gladys Kessler also expressed concern about the force-feeding of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The Court denied detainee Jihad Dhiab’s motion for a preliminary injunction to stop force-feeding due to lack of jurisdiction, but in her order, Judge Kessler noted that Dhiab has set out in great detail in his court filings “what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.” The United States has ratified the ICCPR and is obligated to comply with its provisions. Judge Kessler also wrote, “it is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the [medical] organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.” (emphasis added).

The judge concluded by correctly pointing out that you, as Commander in Chief, have the authority to intercede on behalf of Dhiab, and other similarly-situated detainees at Guantanamo. The court wrote: “Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that ‘[t]he President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. ...’ It would seem to follow, therefore, that the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority—and power—to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

Furthermore, on May 23, 2013, in your national security speech at the National Defense University you raised the issue of force-feeding and asked “Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?” (emphasis added). We don’t believe it is. And we agree with your comment in the speech that “[o]ur sense of justice is stronger than that.”

We therefore encourage you to direct the Department of Defense to stop conducting such large-scale force-feedings and, where force-feeding is medically necessary to save a detainee’s life, to observe the protections required at U.S. Bureau of Prisons facilities. It is our understanding that the U.S. federal prison guidelines for force-feedings include several safeguards and oversight mechanisms that are not in place at Guantanamo Bay.

Attached please find Senator Feinstein’s June 19th letter to Secretary Hagel, which was sent after Senator Feinstein traveled to Guantanamo with your chief of staff and Senator McCain. There has been no response to this letter.

U.S. military personnel serving at Guantanamo are doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances, but they are being asked to carry out an unsustainable policy of indefinite detention because Congress and the Executive Branch have failed to resolve this problem. The growing problem of hunger strikes is due to the fact that many detainees have remained in legal limbo for more than a decade and have given up hope. This should be alarming to all of us, and it is imperative that the Administration outline a formal process to permanently close the Guantanamo facility as soon as possible. We look forward to continue working with you to achieve that end.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
Richard J. Durbin

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