Readers voice skepticism over this disturbing video:
I feel churlish for pointing this out, since I, too, want to see the forcefeeding of Gitmo detainees stopped, but since this undercuts the strength of the argument, it’s worth point out that Mos Def is an actor. Moreover, he’s a very good actor, having been nominated both for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for a powerful performance in this movie. Which means that he (unlike Hitchens) may not have been the best person to do this. I fear there are going to be no shortage of neo-cons who will say he was exaggerating very convincingly (though you could always challenge one of the doubters by telling them to try it for themselves).
Call me cynical, but isn’t it strange that Yasiin is literally begging the people doing the procedure to stop? The whole project is voluntary, right? Why wouldn’t they stop when he first asked them to? I’d wager it’s because they knew that having Mos beg for a bit would better persuade the viewer of the horrors of forced feeding. I don’t mind that so much as a cause marketing idea, except that it presents an inaccurate picture.
Undergoing NTF in and of itself, one time, is not actually such a debilitating or psychologically damaging thing. In fact, it’s pretty commonly done in hospitals and at home, even for children, who presumably have a lower tolerance for pain than a grown adult. I agree that subjecting Guantanamo prisoners to this twice a day, against their will, constitutes torture, but I think it’s patently obvious that Yasiin was doing a bit of acting here. Which is a shame, because it cheapens what is otherwise a correct and important message.
Another speaks from experience:
This past January, I began tube-feeding – or “force feeding” – my son, who is just under two years old.
He had become dangerously underweight due to a medical condition, and could not take food by mouth, so this was the safest way to feed him. The tube, called an NG tube, is not dissimilar to the one in the Mos Def video. It’s just smaller – more appropriate for a child. To insert it, I hold his head still (I have to use a strong grip) while my husband measures an appropriate length of tube out, and then pushes it through his nostril and into his stomach My son struggles, cries, and yells, and we have to swaddle him to keep him from using his arms to block us. He’s usually gagging as it goes down his throat. Sometimes he vomits while we’re placing the tube, and we have to stop and wait 5-10 minutes before beginning the process again.
The first time we did it was the worst. He screamed, and, really did look like he was being tortured. We’ve had to do it 8-10 times since then, and it’s gotten easier. Nowadays, he no longer looks frightened, but is clearly deeply uncomfortable during the insertion. Once it’s in, he’s fine. Food is pumped into his stomach 2-3 times a day; he’s usually watching television or peacefully sleeping when he’s being fed. No discomfort whatsoever.
My son is one of many. Hundreds of children are either born or later develop conditions that make tube-feeding a necessity for some amount of time. I learned about them at this website.
Like you, I find the situation at Gitmo an abomination. And I loathe how this practice refuses these men the right to their own bodies (and I agree with Steve Chapman). Still, every time you or someone else writes that force-feeding is “barbaric” or “grotesquely inhumane” (and especially when they compare it to water-boarding) I cringe, as I’m sure many other parents of NG tube-fed children do.
For what it’s worth, efforts have been made to categorize the pain associated with common medical procedures. Insertion of a nasogastric (NG) tube is considered among the most painful of common procedures, according to surveys of patients. This procedure ranks ABOVE reduction (re-alignment) of a fractured bone. To do this to people against their will, repeatedly, is beyond inhumane. One of the lessons I take from these studies is that I owe my patients a bit of IV opiate painkiller (fentanyl, morphine) before proceeding to place the tube; I doubt the prisoners at Gitmo are accorded such compassion.