Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Wednesday questioned whether force-feeding detainees at Guantánamo Bay was a form of torture.
The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman posed the query during remarks at an anti-torture symposium in Washington, D.C., in which he also questioned whether long periods of solitary confinement are torture.
More than 100 of the 166 detainees at Guantánamo are on a hunger strike as a protest to their indefinite detention. Many have been striking since February.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have roundly criticized the Obama administration for force-feeding many of the protesting detainees.
The administration has been unable to close the prison because it has not been able to find enough willing countries that will accept the transfer of the detainees. Republicans have blocked moves to transfer them into the United States.
Speaking at the “Torture Is a Weapon Against Democracy” symposium held at Georgetown Law School on Wednesday, Leahy also blasted President George W. Bush’s administration for using harsh interrogation methods, such as waterboarding, saying top officials openly defended them.
“They just called it something else — enhanced interrogation techniques,” he said.
He said the use of waterboarding and other techniques severely hurt the U.S. diplomatic outreach and presence in the world.
“Do we condone these same practices when carried out by repressive governments? I think not,” said Leahy.
“What sets the United States apart is what we stand for — our values, the example we set. After 9/11, we saw how easily those values can be sacrificed by the very people who have a responsibility to protect them.
“Suddenly torture was treated as a necessity, the lesser of evils, and those who condemned it were accused of being unpatriotic.”
Leahy’s comments come as human rights groups have turned up the pressure on Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Obama to declassify the panel’s recently completed report on the U.S.’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation.
The 6,000-page report was completed last December and was sent to the White House to determine what, if any, information could be released publicly.
The event was sponsored by the Center for Victims of Torture, the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.