Monday, February 13, 2006

Should we let them starve to death?

So, the L.A. Times had a story this morning claiming that a U.N. report on detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will be coming out soon, and that it "concludes that the U.S. treatment of them violates their rights to physical and mental health and, in some cases, constitutes torture." Unsurprisingly, the report will call for the facility to be closed.

Anyway, the thing about the report that struck me as interesting was the following:
[U.N. "special rapporteur on torture" Manfred Nowak said that the U.N. team was "particularly concerned" about the force-feeding of hunger strikers through nasal tubes that detainees said were brutally inserted and removed, causing intense pain, bleeding and vomiting.

"It remains a current phenomenon," Nowak said.

International Red Cross guidelines state: "Doctors should never be party to actual coercive feeding. Such actions can be considered a form of torture and under no circumstances should doctors participate in them on the pretext of saving the hunger striker's life."
The emphasis there is mine.

Now, if the feeding tubes are being inserted and removed in a deliberately brutal fashion, that ought to stop. If, on the other hand, this is a process that necessarily causes discomfort because the detainees are resisting, what are the people administering the tubes to do?

And I'm surprised that force-feeding hunger strikers is considered torture. If prison officials were to simply let the detainees die of hunger, can't you imagine the howls of protest you'd hear about that? It seems like a real damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

If anyone can paint a clearer picture of the ethics involved here, I'd really appreciate it.

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