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Gitmo gobbledygook: You say 'enterally feeding,' I say 'force-feeding'

The tube used for “enterally feedings” at Guantanamo. (MICHELLE SHEPHARD/TORONTO STAR)

“We don’t force-feed right now at Gitmo.”

That's what U.S. Marine Gen. John Kelly said Tuesday, according to a Miami Herald report by Carol Rosenberg. 

Kelly is the chief of the U.S. Southern Command and was in Guantanamo this weekend, where more than 100 detainees are on a hunger strike demanding release and closure of the detention centre.

His comments may be news to Kelly's commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, who said in a national security address last month that he wanted Guantanamo closed and worried about its impact on the U.S.'s reputation. “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?” Obama said. “Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?”

So there's that term: force-feed.

Back to Kelly. What did he mean?

Rosenberg explains:

Hunger strikers who fall below a certain body weight are taken twice a day to a feeding chair and given a choice — eat or have a tube snaked up your nostril, down the back of your throat and have a can of Ensure pumped inside.

“They’re all eating something,” Kelly said, adding that some detainees in the prison supervised by Southcom will drink a dose of Ensure through a straw rather than by the tube.

He called Guantanamo’s current protest a “Hunger Strike Lite.”

Is Kelly saying that detainees are willingly sipping Ensure? Their lawyers would disagree. Journalists can't verify exactly what is going on because access to the base is limited. It's a story, of course, if detainees are actually taking nutritional supplements without being restrained.

But read further into his comments and perhaps Kelly is talking semantics. It's not force-feeding, but he says what they are doing at Guantanamo is "enterally feeding," hunger striking detainees, using the military term for the procedure.

Ah, Gitmo's war on words. Over the years this has been an issue raised repeatedly in our reporting on Guantanamo. Do not call it a prison, journalists have been told, because it's a "detention centre." Do not write that there are interrogations, because in fact questioning detainees is called "reservations." (That one was one of my favourites.) Suicides are "asymmetric warfare."

As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, "political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

So without evidence to show otherwise, this is what we know. The Pentagon reports that as of this morning, 39 detainees are being tube fed, call it what you will. Was the hunger strike an effort by the detainees to put Guantanamo back on the agenda? Undoubtedly so. Has it worked? Yes. Is Guantanamo closing? No, not in the near future. None of the detainees cleared for transfer have left the base since Obama's May 23 speech.

But Kelly's comments also raise another issue about where Gitmo will go from here. Aside from the concern that a detainee may soon die, is the fact that Guantanamo is a dangerous place now in ways it wasn't before. Prisoners are locked down, even the 86 (out of 166), who have been cleared by the Pentagon but remain trapped. Guards are at risk as relations with prisoners deteriorate.

Kelly, who called the situation "Hunger Strike Lite," says the current crisis is entirely in the hands of the detainees. In other words, he can't close Gitmo, or release them (neither could Obama's Gitmo Czar once Congress stepped in) so they have to start eating, or not.

But lawyers for the men say otherwise. It's reported that the hunger strike began in February to protest what detainees allege was an aggressive search of their cells, whereby guards seized personal property, such as photos, and mishandled their Qu'rans.

There may be some concessions that can be made, short of releasing the prisoners who the Obama administration has said should no longer be there.

But it doesn't sound like those discussions are ongoing - or even that everyone is speaking the same language.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/04/3433333/southcom-general-has-nothing-to.html#storylink=cpy

Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of"Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm


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The act of force-feeding someone judged to be rational constitutes torture under the Declaration of Tokyo. It makes no difference whether this is done by forcibly inserting a feeding tube or making them eat under threat of torture. Drinking ensure through a straw to keep from being abused is force-feeding.

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