|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
In recent weeks, the officials said, guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into "restraint chairs," sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Detainees who refuse to eat have also been placed in isolation for extended periods in what the officials said was an effort to keep them from being encouraged by other hunger strikers.
The measures appear to have had drastic effects. The chief military spokesman at Guantánamo, Lt. Col. Jeremy M. Martin, said yesterday that the number of detainees on hunger strike had dropped to 4 from 84 at the end of December.
Some officials said the new actions reflected concern at Guantánamo and the Pentagon that the protests were becoming difficult to control and that the death of one or more prisoners could intensify international criticism of the detention center. Colonel Martin said force-feeding was carried out "in a humane and compassionate manner" and only when necessary to keep the prisoners alive. H e said in a statement that "a restraint system to aid detainee feeding" was being used but refused to answer questions about the restraint chairs.
Lawyers who have visited clients in recent weeks criticized the latest measures, particularly the use of the restraint chair, as abusive.
"It is clear that the government has ended the hunger strike through the use of force and through the most brutal and inhumane types of treatment," said Thomas B. Wilner, a lawyer at Shearman & Sterling in Washington, who last week visited the six Kuwaiti detainees he represents. "It is a disgrace."
The lawyers said other measures used to dissuade the hunger strikers included placing them in uncomfortably cold air-conditioned isolation cells, depriving them of "comfort items" like blankets and books and sometimes using riot-control soldiers to compel the prisoners to sit still while long plastic tubes were threaded down their nasal passages and into their stomachs.
Officials of the military and the Defense Department strongly disputed that they were taking punitive measures to break the strike. They said that they were sensitive to the ethical issues raised by feeding the detainees involuntarily and that their procedures were consistent with those of federal prisons in the United States. Those prisons authorize the involuntary treatment of hunger strikers when there is a threat to an inmate's life or health.
"There is a moral question," the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., said in an interview. "Do you allow a person to commit suicide? Or do you take steps to protect their health and preserve their life?"
Dr. Winkenwerder said that after a review of the policy on involuntary feeding last summer Pentagon officials came to the basic conclusion that it was ethical to stop the inmates from killing themselves.
"The objective in any circumstance is to protect and sustain a person's life," he said.
Some international medical associations and human rights groups, including the World Medical Association, oppose the involuntary feeding of hunger strikers as coercive.