More than 250 doctors from seven countries urged the U.S. government on Friday to abandon force-feeding and the use of restraints on hunger strikers at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
The doctors from Britain, the United States, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands said prisoners at the camp in eastern Cuba have the right to refuse treatment and that physicians must respect their decision.
“We urge the U.S. government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as force-feeding and restraint chairs are abandoned,” the doctors said in an open letter published in The Lancet medical journal.
They added that the World Medical Association, a global body representing physicians, specifically prohibits force-feeding in two declarations dating back to 1975. The American Medical Association is a co-signatory of the declarations.
“Those breaching such guidelines should be held to account by their professional bodies,” the letter added.
Human rights groups, religious organizations and some governments have criticized the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners and have urged Washington to close the camp.
Only 10 of the nearly 500 terrorism suspects held at the naval base have been formally charged with a crime. Their indefinite detentions and lack of legal rights have been condemned by human rights activists.
Authorities at the camp have been accused of inserting a tube into the nose and down to the stomach of a prisoner on hunger strike and keeping him strapped in a chair for hours at a time, forcing him to defecate and urinate in his clothes.
The prisoner, Mohammed Bawazir, has been held at the base since May 2002. He claims he was tortured when he was force-fed and forced to end his 5-month hunger strike.
U.S. attorneys have said that force-feeding was designed to improve the prisoner’s health and was done in a humane fashion.
Dr. David Nicholl, a neurologist at City Hospital in Birmingham, England, and the initiator of the letter, said the American public and the medical community need to be aware of what is happening at Guantanamo Bay.
“These are very serious allegations,” Nicholl told Reuters.
The letter also questions how seriously the American medical profession takes allegations of torture by its own members.
“This is a challenge to the American Medical Association,” he said. “Are they going to obey those declarations (forbidding force-feeding), or are those bits of paper literally not worth the paper they are written on?