Military officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are attempting to make force-feeding a little more fun for detainees. Some longterm hunger strikers can now kick back in a plush recliner — well, not literally, since their ankles are restrained by shackles — and play video games or watch TV while being tube fed a liquid nutritional supplement.
Detainees can choose from hundreds of video games and movies, said Milton, the Guantanamo librarian who doesn't give out his last name. They can watch Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland or play Portal 2. But, say, Call of Duty: Ghosts isn't available — Milton said the library doesn't carry violent video games or movies.
The laid-back force-feeding policy was implemented last October at about the same time prison officials were rewriting a new standard operating procedure that rebranded the hunger strikes as "long-term non-religious fasts."
VICE News obtained from Guantanamo attorneys newly unsealed declarations in a lawsuit filed by a detainee who is challenging the legality of the force-feeding process. In one sworn declaration, Army Colonel John Bogdan discussed the new reclining chair policy. He said it only applies to detainees who are "compliant."
"The Senior Medical Officer and I conferred and agreed that for those detainees, we would allow the use of a soft chair [reacted]," Bogdan said in his April 14 declaration. "The chair reclines, and the detainees may watch television or play video games while being enterally fed."
Hunger strikers designated for tube feedings who are not deemed compliant are not permitted to watch television, play video games, or use the reclining chair. Those detainees are instead force fed while seated in a restraint chair that restricts their movement.
Force-feeding is a torturous procedure and 'a comfy chair doesn't change that.'
A federal court judge has described Guantanamo's force-feeding procedure as a "painful, degrading, and humiliating" process, and the United Nations condemned the practice as a form of torture. But Bogdan said there is a medical benefit to force-feeding longterm hunger strikers in a recliner while they play video games or watch TV. It's part of an effort at Guantanamo to help the detainees "improve their eating habits and thus their overall health," he wrote in his declaration.
Retired Army Brigadier General Dr. Stephen Xenakis, who has consulted for defense attorneys on numerous Guantanamo detainee cases, said he "cannot discern how this chair would improve eating habits and overall health."
"The procedures do not conform to recommendations by recognized agencies, and violate medical ethics," Xenakis said.
The American Medical Association (AMA) agrees. Last year, in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, AMA President Dr. Jeremy Lazarus said subjecting detainees to feedings against their will "violates core ethical values of the medical profession."
Navy Commander John Filostrat, a Guantanamo spokesman, told VICE News he could not explain the medical benefits of the reclining chair. "Since this is part of ongoing litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to elaborate on the statement," he said. Last December, prison officials implemented a media blackout and stopped providing journalists with details about detainees' hunger strikes.
Zeke Johnson, a spokesman for Amnesty International, said force-feeding is a torturous procedure and "a comfy chair doesn't change that. The administration should immediately stop force feeding mentally competent detainees on hunger strike."
Jon Eisenberg is the attorney who represents Guantanamo hunger striker Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian national cleared for release who is challenging the legality of the methods used to force-feed him. Recently, in an email exchange with a government lawyer, Eisenberg learned that Guantanamo officials have dozens of videos showing Dhiab being forcibly removed from his cell, strapped into a restraint chair, and force-fed. A federal court judge ordered the government to allow Eisenberg and other lawyers on Dhiab's legal team to screen those videos at a secure facility in Washington, DC.
In a declaration he filed Tuesday in US District Court, Eisenberg said he spoke with Dhiab Sunday, and the detainee told him he is not being treated humanely during force-feedings.
Guantanamo now calls hunger strikes "long-term non-religious fasts." Read more here.
"I am willing to be force-fed in a humane manner," Dhiab told his attorney. "Is it necessary for them to torture me? Is it necessary for them to choke me every day with the tube? Is it necessary for them to make my throat swollen every day? Do I have to suffer every day? Is it necessary for them to put me in the torture chair in order to feed me?"
Eisenberg said force-feeding at Guantanamo is not a "happy experience," despite the introduction of video games, TV, and a luxuriously comfortable seat during feedings.
If it was so much fun, Eisenberg said, "I'm sure the government would be eager to do a public screening of the secret videotapes they are fighting so hard to suppress."
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold