The United States military will likely show its benevolence toward the Guantanamo Bay detainees it's holding in perpetuity and will only force-feed the hunger strikers at night out of respect for Ramadan. Currently 106 of the 166 detainees are on hunger strike, and 44 of them are twice daily strapped into a chair while a tube is threaded through their noses into their stomachs to prevent them from escaping detention through suicide. In a motion filed Sunday night, four Algerian men asked federal court to stop the force feeding, the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg explains, and judges gave the government till Wednesday at noon to respond. Ramadan starts July 8, and if the court can't decide by then, the men ask the judges "at a minimum, to enjoin any force-feeding between sunup and sundown during the month of Ramadan."
That was the plan all along, a Guantanamo spokesman told Reuters' Jane Sutton, who says the military said two weeks ago it planned to only do nighttime force feedings, as it has during past Ramadans. However, the Miami Herald reports that in previous years, there were only a few detainees being force fed at a time, and that Guantanamo spokesmen would not say whether the base was capable of following that procedure with so many detainees.
Army Col. Greg Julian told the Miami Herald the feeding would continue following the policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. "We will not let the detainees die," he said. The problem is, the detainees aren't in prison. And that is why beyond respecting the holy month by waiting till nightfall to ram a tube filled with nutritious goo into their bodies, a tougher legal question remains. The government can't argue it must keep the men alive in order to punish them. All four men were cleared for release in 2010. They are Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab — both from Algeria — Abu Wa'el Dhiab of Syria, and Shaker Aamer, a Saudi with family in Great Britain.
"Their detention and their force-feeding has nothing to do with military necessity," the men's lawyers say in the court filings. "Their detention is solely a function of a political stalemate between the president and the Congress.... There cannot be a legitimate penological interest in force-feeding petitioners to prolong their indefinite detention... It facilitates the violation of a fundamental human right. The very notion of it is grotesque."
Eighty-six men were cleared for release three years ago, but 56 of them couldn't leave, because they were from Yemen. The U.S. had barred the detainees from being sent back there until Obama said he'd end that ban in May (several bureaucratic hurdles remain). The men remain in the camp because no one in Congress or the Obama administration wants to be blamed if they're released and inexplicably take up arms against the nation that's treated them so well for so many years.
(Above, a shackled detainee reads during his "Life Skills" class in 2010.)