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For Immediate Release

Free Guantánamo Detainees Who Are Cleared for Release, PHR Urges President Obama

Hunger Strikes Are a Clear Sign of Distress and Forced Feeding Violates Medical Ethics

Media Contact

Vesna Jaksic Lowe, MS

Media Relations Manager, New York
Tel: 917-679-0110

Cambridge, MA - 04/10/2013

As a hunger strike by dozens of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay enters its third month, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls on President Obama to take immediate steps to free those who have been cleared for release and to treat remaining detainees in conformance with ethical guidelines and international law.

“Hunger strikes are a desperate act by people who have lost hope in the prospect of ever being released,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “It is unconscionable that we continue to imprison 86 men who have been determined to pose no threat to the United States. President Obama should exercise his authority to safely transfer these people to be released in other countries without further delay.”

A detention center spokesman said this week that 42 detainees have skipped at least nine consecutive meals and are therefore considered to be engaged in a hunger strike. It is unclear how many of them are awaiting release. The center currently holds 166 detainees.

“President Obama has yet to make good on his 2008 promise to close Guantánamo, where so many horrifically abusive acts took place during interrogations that were tantamount to torture,” McKay said. “In the meantime, the president has an obligation to make sure that people still being held there are treated in accordance with medically ethical practices and human rights conventions.”

About a dozen of the detainees on hunger strike are being force-fed, for example, in violation of medical ethics.

“If someone who is mentally competent expresses the wish not to be fed or hydrated, medical personnel are ethically obligated to accede to that person’s wishes,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical adviser. “Under those circumstances, to go ahead and force-feed a person is not only an ethical violation but may rise to the level of torture or ill-treatment.”

In addition, solitary confinement and indefinite detention compound the misery and sense of hopelessness among detainees, many of whom still suffer lasting effects from abusive interrogation and other harsh treatment.

“Medical personnel should never be used as instruments of pain or suffering,” said Dr. Iacopino. “The complicity of medical personnel in abusive interrogation practices and the forced feeding of hunger strikers has undermined the trust that is necessary for ethical medical treatment of Guantánamo detainees. It is time to stop such unethical medical practices and the use solitary confinement and indefinite detention at all national security facilities, to transfer remaining detainees to other appropriate facilities, and to close down Guantánamo for good.”

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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