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Hunger Strikes and the Practice of Force-Feeding

October 2013

Hunger striking is undertaken as a nonviolent form of protest when other ways of expressing demands are unavailable. A significant portion of the detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba have been engaged in on-and-off hunger strikes since 2002. More and more detainees began hunger strikes in February 2013, with the number of hunger strikers climbing into the hundreds by late April.

The U.S. military has responded to the detainees’ protests by subjecting them to force-feeding, a procedure that authorizes the restraint of detainees so they can be forced to take in nutrients by having a tube inserted through their nose. Domestic and global medical groups, including Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), have condemned force-feeding as unethical, and - in some cases - the practice can amount to torture. The continued hunger strikes, and resultant force-feeding, is just one example illuminating the dire situation and ongoing abuse at Guantánamo Bay.

This fact sheet gives an overview of the medical ethics of force-feeding, the U.S. government's response to hunger strikers, and PHR's recommendations to the Obama administration.

PHR Library