Tag Archives: hunger strike

Genocidal Direction



Now comes Navy Captain Robert Durand, who reports that efforts to convince medical professionals to cease all assistance in the force feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay have failed to gain ethical traction. “They signed up to carry out lawful orders,” said Capt. Durand, adding “This is a lawful order.” He then went on to say, “We do it to preserve life.”

One hardly knows where to start with such twisted declarations. Did these medical professionals not also “sign up” to a professional ethos generally understood to mandate that they do no harm to any individual who comes under their care? Also, on what basis is Capt. Durand claiming legality for the order? Military chain of command? Finally, if “life” is understood to center around the conscious volition of the subject, and that subject explicitly wishes to cease eating, then does not forced feeding actually subtract from or even terminate– the life of the subject?



In any event, the notion that national law (as embodied, say, in certain imperatives of an invented or manipulated national security) cancels professional ethics has a long history to which we doubt Capt. Durand would like to find himself attached. To refresh our understanding of the psychology behind such thinking, we pulled out a well-worn copy of Robert Jay Lifton’s extraordinary study of Nazi doctors, above all his final chapter on the psychology of genocide (slightly re-formatted below, for readability):

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As an alternative to the “genocidal direction”, Lifton goes on to discuss the “prophylaxis” of the “embodied self”:

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 4.44.40 PMProtections against the “machine” of “national security” requires a clear ethical detachment that supports the embodied self, while also supporting an individual capacity for empathy, a quality that appears to be totally absent within the regime of Guantanamo indefinite detention.

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We close with a poem written in 2007 by Adnan Latif, found dead in his cell in 2012, purportedly from a drug overdose attributed to a “procedural error” :

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starving for justice

Remote Horrors


Forced feeding of hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom have been officially cleared for release, continues despite widespread condemnation.

While researching international law regarding hunger strikes, we came across a detailed 1991 declaration from the World Medical Association that discusses ethical considerations regarding the participation of medical professionals in the forced feeding of hunger strikers. The declaration is very clear on the issue of respect for the autonomy of any individual who chooses to refuse food:

2. Respect for autonomy. Physicians should respect individuals’ autonomy. This can involve difficult assessments as hunger strikers’ true wishes may not be as clear as they appear. Any decisions lack moral force if made involuntarily by use of threats, peer pressure or coercion. Hunger strikers should not be forcibly given treatment they refuse. Forced feeding contrary to an informed and voluntary refusal is unjustifiable. 

Authorities attempt to portray tube feeding as a benign administrative procedure applied for humanitarian reasons, yet the reality is a violent and painful assault. Consider the vivid description given by Djuna Barnes in 1914:





Of course, we are far more “civilized” nowadays; our technology more subtle and humane.