WASHINGTON – A federal judge Tuesday turned down a bid by three Guantanamo Bay detainees on a hunger strike to stop the government from force-feeding them.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that she doesn't have jurisdiction in the case, because Congress has removed Guantanamo detainees' treatment and conditions of confinement from the purview of federal courts. She said there was "nothing so shocking or inhumane in the treatment" that would raise a constitutional concern.
Collyer wrote that even if she did have jurisdiction, she would deny the detainees' motion for an injunction.
While the effort is framed as a motion to stop force-feeding, the prisoners' "real complaint is that the United States is not allowing them to commit suicide by starvation," she wrote. She said that the United States cannot allow a person in custody to die of self-inflicted starvation, and that numerous courts have recognized the government's duty to prevent suicide and to provide life-saving nutritional and medical care to people in custody.
"The right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments does not include a right to commit suicide and a right to assistance in doing so," wrote Collyer, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
The three men, Shaker Aamer, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, have all been cleared for release but remain at Guantanamo.
Jon Eisenberg, one of the attorneys for the detainees, said Collyer was wrong when she said the detainees are demanding a right to commit suicide.
"She has misunderstood the purpose of the hunger strike. It's not to commit suicide, it's to protest indefinite detention," he said.
As to her conclusion that there was nothing inhumane about force-feeding, Eisenberg said, "Human rights advocates, medical ethicists and religious leaders say otherwise."
He said the lawyers were considering an appeal.
Judge Gladys Kessler turned down a similar case last week, also concluding that she lacked jurisdiction. But she called force-feeding a "painful, humiliating and degrading process."
Kessler, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, wrote that there is one person who does have the authority to address the issue -- and then quoted a recent speech from President Barack Obama in which he criticized the force-feeding of the prisoners at Guantanamo as he said he would renew his efforts to close the prison.
"The president of the United States, as commander in chief, has the authority -- and power -- to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay," she wrote.
Lawyers for prisoners say the most recent hunger strike began in February as a protest of conditions and their indefinite confinement at the U.S. base in Cuba. As of Tuesday, the military said, a little under half of the 166 detainees were participating in the hunger strike.