Judge: Obama has power to address “painful, degrading” Guantanamo hunger strike

July 9, 2013

Image of a force feeding chair

A US Federal judge has urged the President to address the hunger strike in Guantanamo, pointing out that he has the power and the authority to do so directly.

Ruling in a case brought on behalf of a Guantanamo detainee by Cori Crider of human rights charity Reprieve and Jon B Eisenberg, Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District court in Washington, DC, said that “it is perfectly clear…that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.”  

Four detainees – Shaker Aamer (a British resident), Ahmed Belbacha, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Nabil Hadjarab – are seeking an injunction barring force-feeding, especially during the fast of Ramadan, which begins this week.  According to the US military, well over 100 detainees are on hunger strike in protest at their indefinite detention without charge or trial – and Guantanamo authorities are force-feeding up to 45 prisoners twice a day.

Judge Kessler was ruling in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab.  Although she rejected his request, Judge Kessler specifically cited President Obama’s recent comments on Guantanamo, when he asked of the prison and force-feeding “Is that who we are?” She also pointed out that, as Commander-in-Chief, it is the President who “has the authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

Cori Crider, Guantanamo Attorney and Strategic Director at Reprieve said: “The judge’s ruling leaves Obama with nowhere to hide.  He has the power to address the hunger-strike – he could end it tomorrow by starting to free prisoners his own Government has cleared for release.  Will Obama act this time, or not?”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell or Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8161 / 7791 755 415 / clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. The judge’s order can be read in full here: http://legaltimes.typepad.com/files/gitmo-order.pdf  Judge Kessler had the following to say on force-feeding and Obama’s power to address the situation:   “it is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.   “Even though this Court is obligated to dismiss the Application for lack of jurisdiction, and therefore lacks any authority to rule on Petitioner’s request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue. In a speech on May 23,2013, President Barack Obama stated “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. . . Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.” Text of President Obama’s May 23 Speech on National Security (Full Transcript), Wash. Post, May 23, 2013, available at 2013 WLNR 12700673.   “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.”