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For Immediate Release

Doctors Call for Guantánamo Hunger Strikers to Receive Independent Medical Advice

Cambridge, MA - 06/19/2013

More than 150 physicians and other health care professionals from the United States and United Kingdom are urging President Obama to direct that detainees engaged in hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay receive independent medical advice and evaluation.

In a letter published online today in the British medical journal The Lancet, the physicians endorsed the hunger strikers’ plea, published last month in The Guardian, that they be granted access to independent medical care. The 13 strikers who signed the May 31 letter claimed it was impossible for them to trust military doctors who had engaged in degrading and painful forced feeding.

About 100 of the 166 detainees still held at Guantanamo are thought to be participating in the hunger strike, some two dozen of whom have been subjected to force-feeding. Growing numbers of medical professionals in recent weeks have expressed concern that the strikers are not receiving an adequate or humane standard of medical care while being treated by military physicians.

“Without trust, safe and acceptable medical care of mentally competent patients is impossible,” said the doctors in their letter to President Obama. “Since [the detainees on hunger strike] do not trust their military doctors, they are unlikely to comply with current medical advice. That makes it imperative for them to have access to independent medical examination and advice, as they ask, and as required by the UN and World Medical Association.

“We endorse their request, and are prepared to visit them under appropriate conditions, to assist in their recovery and release, and certify when we are confident it is medically safe for them to fly,” the doctors continue. “If you keep your word (given over four years ago), and arrange release of detainees, they will need to become fit to fly before they can be returned to wherever you order your forces to send them.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has called on President Obama to order an immediate halt to the force-feeding while he also takes steps to free detainees who have been cleared for release.

“Detainees’ rights to make decisions about their own health must be respected,” said Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical advisor. “Force feeding not only constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment but is a clear violation of medical standards, and must be ended immediately.” 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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