Feinstein, Durbin urge Obama to stop Gitmo force-feedings

Two prominent Senate Democrats are pushing President Obama to put an end to the large-scale force-feeding of detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

In a letter to Obama, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the president should direct the Pentagon to stop force-feedings in all cases where it is not medically necessary to save a detainee’s life. 

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In those cases, the senators wrote, Guantánamo should follow U.S. federal prison guidelines and oversight procedures, some of which are currently being ignored.

“U.S. military personnel serving at Guantanamo are doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances, but they are being asked to carry out an unsustainable policy of indefinite detention because Congress and the Executive Branch have failed to resolve this problem,” the senators wrote.

“The growing problem of hunger strikes is due to the fact that many detainees have remained in legal limbo for more than a decade and have given up hope,” they said.

Feinstein and Durbin have been two of the biggest Democratic proponents for closing Guantánamo. Obama said in May that he would restart the effort to shutter the facility.

More than 100 of the 166 detainees remaining at Guantánamo are involved in the hunger strike there, and more than 40 are being force-fed.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled against a detainee’s request for an injunction to the feedings, but suggested in her opinion that they violated international law and that Obama should address the issue.

The senators quoted the opinion in their letter to Obama Wednesday, which said that it was clear “force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.”

Feinstein also wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last month asking for the Pentagon to re-evaluate its policy. She said in Wednesday’s letter that she’d yet to receive a response from Hagel.

Feinstein joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on a tour of the facility last month.

While Feinstein and McCain are two of the key senators Obama’s push on Capitol Hill to close the facility, there is also bipartisan opposition to moving detainees out of Guantánamo.

The House voted several times since Obama’s speech to continue to restrict moving detainees onto U.S. soil or to provide funds for constructing a U.S. prison.