US Government refuses to agree to Ramadan force-feeding controls for Guantanamo

July 8, 2013

Image of Ibrahim Halawa with his hands tied in a chair in a warehouse

The Obama Administration has rebuffed proposals which would have ensured that Guantanamo detainees would not have been force-fed or medicated against their will during daylight hours in Ramadan.

Concerns have been raised that hunger-strikers in Guantanamo may be force-fed in breach of the holy day-time fast which is the central feature of Ramadan, after prison authorities said that night-time force-feeding is only “an accommodation, not a right.”

However, Obama’s Department of Justice (DoJ) today said that it “cannot agree to an injunction or consent decree on the issues of Reglan administration or the timing of meals during Ramadan.”  The move, which would have made prisoners’ religious freedoms legally enforceable, had been proposed by Guantanamo attorneys Cori Crider (of human rights charity Reprieve) and Jon B Eisenberg.

US Government lawyers have said that Joint Task Force Guantanamo “plans” to feed all detainees, including those being force-fed, before dawn and after sunset, but with the caveat that this is only “absent any…operational issues.”   Given the lack of detail provided in how they intend to undertake the most widespread force-feeding in the prison’s history in the 10¾ hours between sunset and sunrise, attorneys for four of the hunger-strikers have described the US Government’s “equivocal” response as “problematic at best.”

The suggestion by lawyers for the four men – Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Nabil Hadjarab – had been made as part court proceedings against their ongoing force-feeding, currently before a Federal court in Washington DC.

The detainees’ attorneys have also objected to President Obama’s lawyers’ contention that the men are not “persons” under US law and therefore not protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  In court papers filed on July 4, they noted “that [lawyers for the US Government] have rebuffed petitioners’ assertion of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)” by arguing that “‘non-resident aliens are not protected “persons” within the meaning of RFRA.”’  The detainees’ attorneys concluded that “it hardly advances international respect for American democracy when the Supreme Court treats corporations as ‘persons’ but the President insists that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not.”

Commenting, Cori Crider, Guantanamo Counsel and Strategic Director at Reprieve said: “If the Obama Administration is so sure they can feed these prisoners overnight, why won’t they agree to give it legal weight?  The worrying conclusion is that prisoners’ rights during Ramadan will depend on the government’s largesse. There is an easier way: Obama could stop this strike if he started freeing those prisoners who have been cleared for release by his own Government.”

Jon B Eisenberg said: “The Obama administration’s refusal to work with Reprieve to craft a legally binding agreement against force-feeding these men during the daylight hours of Ramadan demonstrates the emptiness of the Government’s previous attempt to assure the court that they won’t do it.”