District Court Judge Gladys Kessler has demanded that the Justice Department more quickly prepare video recordings of the forced feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a former detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The judge ordered the preparation of 32 video tapes last October, and she made it clear recently that Justice Department foot dragging is unacceptable.
Dhiab claims to have been force fed “about 1,300 times.” He was released from Gitmo to Uruguay last December. Dhiab spent 12 years in the detention facility.
Supporters of closing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention facility hold signs and pictures of prisoners being held at the facility while sitting in the audience during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee July 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from a panel of witnesses on 'Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications.' Credit: Getty Images
A Syrian national, Dhiab was sentenced to death there in absentia for his participation in the Global Jihad Support Network. He was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and then brought to Gitmo.
I was present at Gitmo, a much maligned facility, for the very first forced feeding of two detainees in March 2002. My role as the ranking U.S. Army Medical Department officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group, Joint Task Force 160, was to oversee and help coordinate medical, preventive medical and environmental services for the detainees and facilities.
In my book, “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” I describe the very first force feeding event this way [note: Names are changed to protect privacy]:
30 March 2002: I witnessed the two detainees getting intubated this morning with [Lt. Col.] Grosse. I hadn’t seen it in person before. Detainee #44, hunger striker for over a month, got his tube first. Not much of a problem, but lots of people around, nine medical folks and three MPs. Detainee #217, more of a baby, took less time just because the group knew what they were doing and had all their equipment together. He resisted a bit, but his head was held by five hands, four from two MPs and one from the intubating nurse, a male Navy lieutenant. Detainee #44 was intubated by the Arab-speaking doctor. The interpreter, Navy lieutenant junior grade Dellmore, spoke with each detainee before the procedures, and attempted to get them to eat, or at least drink the cut Ensure they were about to feed them through the tube. No such luck. They were both resistant, but in words only. They cooperated reluctantly, and did not resist physically. The Navy medical folk were incredibly patient, but also insistent and firm.
I spoke with [Cmdr.] Carol James, Chief of Nursing at Fleet Hospital 20, where the procedure took place, and she said that she and her staff have had experience putting tubes down people who didn’t want them in, such as drug addicts, drunks, or people in accidents. It could get messy, she said. But philosophically, one could disagree with what we were doing, but we have to do it. We’re not going to let anyone die; it’s not what we do. We help people get better. We heal.
There are no military medical protocols that allow for detainees to harm themselves, including self-starvation.
When we concluded that the two most determined self-starvers were approaching a potentially dangerous stage in their behavior, we decided it was time to force nutrition through intubation – the placement of a small gauge surgical tube down the nose and throat and then into the stomach.
Decidedly unpleasant for the patient, intubation is not torture, any more than a dental cleaning is torture, nor is it abusive. The intent is not to inflict pain, but to aid the patient and eliminate the threat of irreparable damage.
Every day, all over the world, premature infants and coma victims are intubated. Is this torture? Inhumane? Unethical? Of course not. And neither is intubating unlawful combatant, non-religious self-starvers at the Gitmo. International law and U.S. military regulations require us to care for them as we would care for ourselves.
The only reason detainees decide to starve themselves is to manipulate the political will of the United States government in an effort to get themselves released. It is a planned operational disruption technique taught to Al Qaeda members during their jihadi training. But the Al Qaeda training documents obtained by allies of the U.S., also caution the “brothers” that “hunger strikes” are a “tactic that can either succeed or fail.”
Physically, self-starvation is extremely dangerous. As we see in anorexics, without sufficient nutrition, the body literally feeds on itself, breaking down muscle in order to survive. Starvation wreaks havoc on the immune system, and most starvation victims fall prey to disease. Eventually, self-starvers experience organ failure and then death. It is a horrible, painful and gruesome way to die.
In her order of October 2014, Judge Kessler insisted that the U.S. government release video of the intubation of a detainee at Gitmo, citing Dhiab’s opinion that the facility “should be closed.”
The current edict by Judge Kessler to release video of this procedure is bizarre. As per Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare, showing the identity of detainees is forbidden and is considered exploitation. Having to blur the identities of force fed detainees in the videos is complicating the government’s preparation of them.
Also, by our own federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 laws, releasing personal medical information to those who have no need to know is illegal.
Will the judge also order the release of video showing the intubation of premature infants and coma victims so that the general public can compare the procedures?
Judge Kessler has no right to order the public release of video of a medical procedure. To do so would only serve the cause of our enemies.
President Barack Obama and his administration continue to claim the mere existence of Gitmo is a recruiting tool for our enemies, without any evidence in support of that claim.
But what kind of boon to Islamist public relations and recruiting would the public release of video of a forced feeding of a former Gitmo detainee produce?
Whose side are they on?
Montgomery Granger is a three-times mobilized U.S. Army major (Ret.) and author of "Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior." Amazon, Blog, Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter: @mjgranger1
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