This morning, US District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer denied a petition to halt the force feeding of Guantanamo detainees. In her 15-page ruling, Judge Collyer concurred with her colleague on the federal bench, Judge Gladys Kessler, who ruled recently that the courts do not have the authority to stop the involuntary feedings, while explicitly rejecting Kessler’s argument that the feedings constitute “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”
Judge Collyer writes that:
Even if the Court had jurisdiction to consider Petitioners’ motion for preliminary injunction, the motion would be denied … because the public interest and balance of harms weighs in favor of the government. Although framed as a motion to stop feeding via nasogastric tube, petitioners’ real complaint is that the United States is not allowing them to commit suicide by starvation….
As his custodian, the United States cannot “allow” any person held in custody to starve himself to death. Whatever the medical ethics for a person at liberty, the United States as custodian has additional obligations. Numerous courts have recognized the government’s affirmative duty to prevent suicide and to provide life-saving nutritional and medical care to persons in custody…. The government has a legitimate penological interest in preventing suicide, and the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking prisoners and detainees has been repeatedly upheld….
After citing numerous cases in which courts upheld the legality of force feeding detainees, she writes:
If an injunction were granted, Petitioners would be permitted to refuse food and endanger their lives and health, possibly to the point of death. This would be contrary to the Government’s duty to provide life-saving medical care to persons in custody and would undermine the security and safety of the Guantanamo facility and the detainees housed there.
As I point out in the Washington Post this week, her finding is similar to that of the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which in 2006 ordered the force-feeding of Serbian warlord Vojislav Seselj, who was protesting his prosecution. “The trial . . . should not be undermined by the accused’s manipulative behaviour,” the UN judges declared in a statement, adding that under international law force-feeding is not “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment if there is a medical necessity to do so . . . and if the manner in which the detainee is force-fed is not inhuman or degrading.”
So both the UN and federal courts agree: force-feeding detainees is not torture.