More rights for force-fed geese than Gitmo prisoners, warn lawyers

September 11, 2013

US courts are protecting ducks and geese from force-feeding, but failing to extend the same protection to humans in Guantanamo Bay, lawyers for detainees have today argued in an appeal filed with the federal courts.

The appeal is the latest stage in a legal battle to enforce the rights of Guantanamo detainees over their own bodies, filed by attorneys from human rights charity Reprieve and Jon B Eisenberg, on behalf of Ahmed Belbacha and Shaker Aamer – a British resident whose return has been requested by the UK Prime Minister.

Addressing the Government’s claim that force-feeding is “humane,” they “note that the Ninth Circuit recently upheld California’s legislative ban on force-feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras, deeming the ban to be a lawful pursuit of the state’s ‘interest in preventing animal cruelty,’” adding: “The irony of protecting ducks and geese from a practice that is inflicted on human beings at Guantánamo Bay speaks volumes.”

While the Government has attempted to argue that the issue does not lie within the court’s jurisdiction, lawyers for the detainees say it does, as the force-feeding taking place is a “deprivation of substantial rights,” and “a seizure of [the detainee’s] internal organs through the forcible invasion of his gastro-intestinal tract.”

The appeal, filed today with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, also points to the approach taken by California towards a prison hunger-strike as a better alternative to that currently pursued by the authorities in Guantanamo.  It states that, whereas California policy grants hunger-strikers “autonomy in health care decisions related to nutrition,” under Guantanamo rules, a “hunger striker currently may be force-fed simply because he … has been on hunger strike for more than 21 days.”

The appeal also deals with the Guantanamo authorities’ moves to block the ability of prisoners to engage in communal prayer – a key part of the holy period of Ramadan, which fell in July-August this year.  The lawyers note that the Government has not rebutted their showing that “its intent in depriving Guantánamo detainees of the ability to pray in congregation was to coerce them into ceasing their hunger strike.”

Cori Crider, an attorney for the detainees and Strategic Director at Reprieve said: “It’s ugly, but the truth is we are tolerating treatment of human beings at Gitmo that we’d reject for a battery hen. Twice a day every day, six months in, cleared men are still being strapped into chairs and stuffed full of Ensure. The President suggests force-feeding is un-American – but his lawyers insist it is humane.  It has to stop.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

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