Military nurse facing court martial for refusing to force-feed prisoners

The US has been force feeding large numbers of prisoners at Guantanamo who have been on a hunger strike even though the United Nations has said that force feeding hunger strikers is a form of torture.

Force-feeding hunger strikers is a breach of international law, the UN’s human rights office said Wednesday, as US authorities tried to stem a protest by inmates at the controversial Guantanamo Bay jail.

“If it’s perceived as torture or inhuman treatment — and it’s the case, it’s painful — then it is prohibited by international law,” Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, told AFP.

Out of 166 inmates held at the prison at the remote US naval base in southeastern Cuba, 100 are on hunger strike, according to the latest tally from military officers. And of those, 21 detainees are being fed through nasal tubes.

Coville explained that the UN bases its stance on that of the World Medical Association, a 102-nation body whose members include the United States, which is a watchdog for ethics in healthcare.

In 1991 the WMA said that forcible feeding is “never ethically acceptable”.

“Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting,” it said.

That WMA ruling followed a 1975 declaration that artificial feeding methods should never be used without a prisoner’s permission, and that a prisoner had the right to refuse all food if a physician considered the individual capable of “unimpaired and rational judgment” about the consequences.

But now there is a case of a nurse in the US military stationed at Guantanamo who became increasingly uneasy about having to participate in the force-feeding of hunger strikers. He eventually claimed conscientious objector status and said that he would not participate any more. As a result, he is now facing court martial hearings.

The nurse has never been identified. Last month, a lawyer for a cleared, force-fed hunger striker told the story of the Navy lieutenant, a nurse, who refused to take part in the feedings — and the military confirmed it.

Guantánamo detainee Abu Wael Dhiab described him as perhaps 40 years old and Latino, an officer who at first willingly administered tube feedings to detainees, but over time became a conscientious objector.

The officer was then assigned to administrative duties at Joint Task Force-Guantánamo, or the JTF as the prison is known, while the commander decided what to do with him.

The officer has not been charged with any violations. But, Army Col. Greg Julian at the U.S. Southern Command, which has oversight of the prison, said Friday: “He was administratively separated from the JTF and he’s pending court martial.”

So we have another example of how warped the values of this nation have become. Earlier we saw president Obama not only refuse to prosecute those who committed torture, he even went so far as to praise them as patriots.

So let’s sum up the situation: Those who commit torture are patriots. Those who refuse to participate in torture are punished.

Truly we are a shining example for the world.


  1. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    I expect the threat of a Court Martial is an intimidation tactic and the lieutenant will never face a board unless he demands one. If he does, and I hope that happens, I expect he will be represented by very competent civilian council pro bono.

    The case would hinge on whether or not the officer was given a lawful order. My non-JD-impaired assessment would be that the order was not lawful and the Lieutenant ought to be offered another duty station or be allowed to resign his commission without prejudice.

    Do all you can to make today a better day,


  2. says

    It would be nice to think the court martial is a threat, but unfortunately getting conscientious objector status has a guiding set of rules (including religiousity and/or “sincerity”) including overall objecting to serving in the military. The idea was that conscientious objectors could refuse to serve if drafted — it gets a lot trickier if you serve for a while and then claim that you’re an objector; because you obviously are not. I fear that the nurse has made a severe blunder by using that claim, rather than claiming up the chain of command that they were refusing to obey an illegal order.

    The entire situation is utterly shameful.

    I agree with hyphenman that arguing the order is unlawful is the most likely successful tack. You can be sure the military will do everything they can to block that coming to a court martial because: what if it is found to be unlawful? Then that means there are other service members still giving and obeying the unlawful order. This is one of those “too big to fail” scenarios. My bet is they’ll put the nurse in military prison for a couple years like they did to Bradley Manning.

  3. says

    In reply to Mr. Ranum’s comment, “The idea was that conscientious objectors could refuse to serve if drafted — it gets a lot trickier if you serve for a while and then claim that you’re an objector; because you obviously are not.” This is a false statement. The current military regulations are designed specifically for military personnel that “serve for a while,” have a crystallizing moment and/or experiences while doing so, and then exit the military as conscientious objectors. It is not an easy discharge, but organizations such as Courage to Resist, CCW, and the GI Rights Hotline help dozens of service members do just that every year. Being ordered to torture someone could absolutely translate into a crystallizing moment for a solid conscientious objector claim by a service member. Of course the situation is challenging if he is facing a legal proceedings, but that is also not uncommon for objectors.

  4. says

    Thanks for your article: “Military nurse facing court martial for refusing to force-feed prisoners”. I think the nurse in the army that is brave. Nursing is one of those under a lot of pressure in our lives. Communities should join together to protect the rights of nurses. Thank you, I will come back again to blog tracking.

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