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Guantanamo Bay force feeding raises painful memories for republicans

(Evan Short, Irelandclick.com)

Former prisoners of recent British penal history recall the trauma of torture and forced feeding, now happening to Muslim hunger strikers

January 11 marks the fourth anniversary of detainees being held in the US Military Detention Centre in Guantanamo Bay.

In what has become one of the most contentious issues surrounding the so-called war on terror, men and boys who were arrested by the US Army after the invasion of Afghanistan and labelled "unlawful combatants" were transferred to the camp in Cuba.

The UN special rapporteur on torture has revealed that there are allegations that Guantanamo hunger strikers are being force-fed in a cruel manner.

Manfred Nowak's comments came after it emerged that the number of detainees refusing food at the prison camp had more than doubled since December 25.

Some 84 inmates are now refusing food, according to the US military.

But a Pentagon official said there was no evidence that they had been treated in an inappropriate way.

Denied access to a judicial process and forced to live in what human rights groups have described as 'dog kennels' that offer little protection from the elements, prisoners, some believed to be as young as 13, have in the words of Amnesty International been involved in a "travesty of justice".

Such shocking abuses bring back painful memories for New Lodge man Sam Millar. The former republican prisoner – now a major selling author – was the longest man on the blanket protest. He said watching the scenes from the horror camp were extremely distressing.

"When I look at what is going on in Guantanamo Bay and compare it with what happened to us, the parallels are frightening. It is worse than internment what is going on out there."

Sam Millar believes the issue of Guantanamo goes beyond the question of Afghanistan.

"I think there should be absolute outrage at what's going on, but for some reason it just doesn't seem to be a big issue. The way it is portrayed as well, they make you become immune to it."

He said he also fears for ordinary Americans, who he believes will suffer because of the country's policies.

"The telephone transcripts that have been released of the prisoners on the phone would break your heart. I am afraid this will alienate ordinary Americans from the rest of the world because of what their government is doing," he said.

In recent weeks, as we approach the fourth anniversary of the camp opening, chilling new reports have emerged that forced with a growing hunger strike campaign by the detainees, the military has instigated a new regime of force feeding.

Described by the US military as "providing appropriate nutrition through nasal tubes" the grim reality of force feeding was described in detail by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly in an interview with the North Belfast News in 2004.

"They press their knuckles into your jaws and press in hard. The way they finally did force feed me was getting forceps and running them up and down my gums," he said.

"I opened my mouth, but I was able to resist after that," said the Sinn Féin man in the interview.

"Then they tried – there's a part of your nose, like a membrane and it's very tender – and they started on that. It's hard to describe the pain. It's like someone pushing a knitting needle into the side of your eye. As soon as I opened my mouth they put in this wooden bit with a hole in the middle for the tube. They rammed it between my teeth and then tied it with cord around my head.

"Then they got paraffin and forced it down the tube. The danger is that every time it happens you think you're going to die. The only things that move are your eyes.

"They get a funnel and put the stuff down."

Affidavits from the prisoners in Guantanamo describe how the torture victims vomited up "substantial amounts of blood" while being fed through their nose.

The US Military has denied that torture takes place in Guantanamo Bay and says there was not truth in the allegations.

However, by admitting to force feeding prisoners for republicans like Gerry Kelly, these words will have a hollow ring to them.

January 6, 2006

This article appeared first on the Irelandclick.com web site on January 5, 2006.