Lawyers ask federal court to halt Guantanamo forced-feeding

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Lawyers for four Guantanamo captives are asking a federal court in Washington, D.C., to put an end to the "grotesque" practice of forced feeding at the Pentagon prison.

Officials defend the use of forced feeding as modeled after U.S. Bureau of Prisons policy. But the lawyers argue that, unlike federal prisoners, these Guantanamo captives have never been charged with a crime and are held not for punishment but more broadly as war-on-terror detainees.

"There cannot be a legitimate penological interest in force-feeding petitioners to prolong their indefinite detention," says the 30-page filing by Oakland, Calif.-based attorney Jon B. Eisenberg and London-based lawyer Cori Crider of the human rights group Reprieve. "It facilitates the violation of a fundamental human right. The very notion of it is grotesque."

As of Monday, 44 captives were on the force-feed list, said Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, a Guantanamo spokesman. House said the military started July with a tally of 106 detainee hunger strikers.

The Pentagon has about 140 Navy doctors, nurses and corpsmen are carrying out the feedings. Guards strap a captive into a restraint chair twice daily, then a medical professional snakes a tube up the captive's nose, down the back of his throat and into his stomach to pump a nutritional supplement inside.

The lawyers say the captives — Saudi Shaker Aamer, 46; Syrian Jihad Diyab, 41; and Algerians Ahmed Belbacha, 44, and Nabil Hadjarab, 33 - seek a speedy hearing on the forced-feeding policy "because of the imminent risk that it will deprive them of the ability to observe the Ramadan fast, which commences this year on July 8."

"Petitioners therefore ask this Court, at a minimum, to enjoin any force-feeding between sunup and sundown during the month of Ramadan."

In past Ramadans, the prison has said it tube-fed hunger strikers at night to allow protesters to participate in Islam's holy fasting month.

Guantanamo spokesmen would not say last week if the U.S. military medical forces would or could conduct night-time forced feedings during Ramadan now that the hunger strike is so widespread.

The lawyers seek the injunctions from two different U.S. District Court judges, Rosemary Collyer and Gladys Kessler, because both judges have the individual detainees' habeas corpus cases on their dockets.

A likely first hurdle is whether the judges will take the case. Justice Department lawyers have successfully argued in other Guantanamo suits that civilian judges have no oversight on conditions at the Pentagon prison in Cuba, only on review of unlawful detention petitions.

The filing cites the positions of international medical groups that a competent captive has the right to starve himself, and also a recent letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel opposing the Pentagon's forced-feeding practices.

All four captives named in the suit were cleared for release from Guantanamo in 2010. A federal task force approved each man's transfer on condition the nations that took him in could provide security assurances. Aamer is a former British resident whose family lives in London.