WASHINGTON -- A military physician who oversees the nurses who force-feed Guantanamo’s hunger-striking detainees told reporters visiting the remote naval base last week that the opposition to the force-feeding process by human rights and medical groups is "political."
"It's very easy for folks outside of this place to make policies and decisions they think they would implement," the unnamed official said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
"This is kind of a tough mission and this is kind of an ugly place sometimes, all right?" the official continued. "The reality is when faced with people who are hunger-striking, potentially to the point of needing medical intervention to protect their life and to keep them from harming themselves, suddenly it's not a very abstract decision. Hunger strikes are tough and a big use of time. I realize there's a lot of controversy. But it's a political thing."
Human rights groups have criticized the practice of force-feeding, as has the American Medical Association. But the military physician said there were "lots of politics involved" in the AMA’s opposition to force-feeding as unethical.
Under Guantanamo's protocol, first published by Al Jazeera last week and sent to The Huffington Post by a military spokesman in Guantanamo, detainees being force-fed are fitted with masks and sit in restraint chairs for up to two hours twice a day as they undergo the procedure. The protocol compares procedures for handling a hunger strike to "battlefield tactics" and states that "isolating hunger striking patients from each other is vital to prevent them from achieving solidarity." In April, officials had emphasized that detainees were being kept in single cells for their own health rather than to break the strike.
As of Tuesday morning, according to a Gitmo spokesman, 103 of Guantanamo's 166 detainees were recognized as hunger strikers, with 30 being force-fed, or "receiving enteral feeds" in the language of the military.
President Barack Obama has said he will renew his effort to close the Guantanamo prison. His speech at the National Defense University on Thursday is set to address Guantanamo as well as the administration's counterterrorism policy more broadly.
Obama "will review the state of the threats we face, particularly as al Qaeda core has weakened but new dangers have emerged; he will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones; he will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; and he will frame the future of our efforts against Al Qaeda, its affiliates and adherents," a White House official told The Huffington Post of the speech.
Read the military document laying out the "standard operating procedure" for handling a hunger strike below.
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A cell block at Guantanamo's Camp VI that had been occupied until a raid on April 13, 2013. One detainee had written "stop tortur us. stop desclate our relgion" on the wall of his cell. The officer in charge of the facility said that detainees had hoarded all types of materials in the communal area.
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A Guantanamo guard looks over a video screen at Camp VI at Guantanamo in April. Detainees had blocked 147 of the prison's 160 cameras, according to a military official.
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A guard checks on detainees in a sparsely populated block of Guantanamo's Camp Six in April.
Guantanamo Medical Facility
Military officials show journalists the room where some detainees were being force fed during the ongoing hunger strike at the facility.
Force Feeding chair
A restraining chair used to feed detainees at Guantanamo.
Cans of Ensure at Guantanamo
A guard displays cans of Ensure used to force feed detainees at Guantanamo.
A handprint is shown on a Camp VI cell block that was occupied by a detainee until a raid in mid-April.
A shoe from a detainee left on the now-empty cell block.
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The second level of an empty cell block in Camp VI as seen from below.
Camp VI Sign
A sign outside Guantanamo's Camp VI.
Guantanamo Flag At Half Staff
A flag flying over Guantanamo's Camp Six flys at half staff in honor of victims of Boston Marathon massacre.
Camp Five Guards
Guards at Camp Five stand watch during morning prayers.
Camp Five Cell Block
An empty cell block in Guantanamo's Camp Five.
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A guard hands water to a detainee on the Bravo block of Guantanamo's Camp Five.
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A dead banana rat on the road to Guantanamo's prison facilities.
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President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pictured at the headquarters of Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Joint Detention Group headquarters.