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Dept. of Justice Defends Force-Feeding of Gitmo Detainees

John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Justice is defending the government’s force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, saying in a brief filed in federal court Wednesday that “well-established legal authority supports [the administration’s] policies of enteral feeding hunger-striking detainees to preserve their health and lives.”

The Department also argued that the federal civilian court does not have jurisdiction over the issue.

One hundred six detainees have been designated as hunger strikers, and 45 of them have been approved to receive force-feeding “by way of a nasogastric tube,” according to the Department’s filing.

Four detainees, three of them approved for force-feeding, are urging a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to block the administration from force-feeding detainees. But doing so, the DOJ said Wednesday, “would functionally authorize a detainee to commit suicide by starvation.” And the Department insisted what it is doing is “necessary” and “humane.”

“The protocols for providing care to hunger-striking detainees have been performed in a humane fashion, with concern for Petitioners’ well-being, and never in a manner designed to inflict pain or discomfort, or as punishment or retaliation…It is the policy of the Department of Defense to support the preservation of life and health by appropriate clinical means and standard medical intervention, in a humane manner, and in accordance with all applicable standards,” the Justice Department said in its 20-page filing.

The force-feedings can last 30-40 minutes, according to the Department of Justice.

The Justice Department said that in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, “members of Congress specifically intended to prevent the detainees from raising claims related to the provision of medical care,” and court precedent since then has established that federal civilian courts would not have jurisdiction over such issues.

“When the choice presented is to stand by and watch as Petitioners starve themselves and their health declines, or to continue providing them essential nourishment and care, there is no disputing where the balance of interests lies,” the Department said.

The detainees had argued that the force-feedings would interfere with their ability to observe the upcoming holiday of Ramadan, but the Department of Justice said they plan to force-feed detainees “before dawn and after sunset in order to accommodate their religious practices during Ramadan.”

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