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Mos Def Can't Handle Being Force-Fed Like a Gitmo Prisoner

The hip-hop artist and actor agreed to try it out on film for the human-rights group Reprieve.
mos def full reuters.jpg
Reuters

The human-rights group Reprieve arranged for Yasiin Bey, better known as hip-hop artist Mos Def, to be force-fed using the standard operating procedure at Guantanamo Bay, a session they videotaped. In the disturbing footage, posted at The Guardian, Bey has a tube shoved down his nasal cavity and down his throat, at which point he pleads for the process to stop. The footage is below, and while I don't know whether or not forced feeding crosses the line of torture, the exercise reminded me of the late Christopher Hitchens volunteering to be waterboarded.

The Obama Administration is force-feeding numerous Gitmo prisoners twice daily as a response to a hunger strike inmates launched to protest being held indefinitely without charges or trial.

The standard procedures used include "strapping detainees to a chair, forcing a tube down their throats, feeding them large quantities of liquid nutrients and water, and leaving them in the chair for as long as two hours to keep them from purging the food," The Washington Post has reported. Detainees say the procedures are abusive, verge on torture, and have "caused them to urinate and defecate on themselves and that the insertion and removal of the feeding tube was painful."

More recently, Al Jazeera posted a 30 page government document on force feeding procedure.

As Joe Nocera wrote around the same time, "For decades, the international community, including the International Red Cross, the World Medical Association and the United Nations, have recognized the right of prisoners of sound mind to go on a hunger strike. Force-feeding has been labeled a violation on the ban of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The World Medical Association holds that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in force-feeding. Put simply, force-feeding violates international law." Had a typical American been told, circa 2000, that another country was force-feeding hunger striking prisoners who were being held without charges or trial, he or she almost certainly would've regarded the government responsible as abusive.

The Obama Justice Department defends the forced insertion of feeding tubes down the throats of prisoners. "The protocols for providing care to hunger-striking detainees have been performed in a humane fashion, with concern for Petitioners' well-being, and never in a manner designed to inflict pain or discomfort, or as punishment or retaliation," DOJ stated in a federal court filing. "It is the policy of the Department of Defense to support the preservation of life and health by appropriate clinical means and standard medical intervention, in a humane manner ... "

Awful options -- force feed prisoners or risk them dying -- are inevitable so long as the prison at Gitmo remains open and filled with dozens of inmates (a significant percentage of the entire population) certified by the U.S. government as ready for release and posing no threat to our security.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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