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Guantanamo Bay Detainees Subjected to Forced Rectal Feeding and Hydration

by Eike Blohm MD

Pretrial hearings in February 2023 at Guantánamo Bay in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri – the man accused of devising the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole – included a stunning revelation: Detainees at the U.S. military base in Cuba were repeatedly subjected to sexual assault and torture disguised as a medical procedure.

In an effort to suppress evidence from statements Nashiri made to interrogators in 2007, defense lawyers argued that it was tainted by torture and proffered expert testimony from Dr. Sondra S. Crosby, a Boston physician and torture expert. Dr. Crosby was given access to CIA interrogation documents, from which she then detailed in open court the “medical treatment” to which Nashiri was subjected by U.S. personnel: Stripped naked and shackled at his wrists and ankles, he was bent over a chair while an endotracheal tube – normally used as a breathing tube –was forcibly inserted into his anus. A “proteinaceous” fluid was then pumped into his rectum through the tube, which was left in place for half an hour to facilitate absorption of the food in his colon.

Nashiri is not the only prisoner to undergo such “treatment.” In a 2021 trial, detainee Majid Khan detailed how water was forced into his rectum using a garden hose. So did Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who also described being subjected to “rectal hydration” at a hearing in 2018. In December 2014, the Obama administration released a 500-page summary of a classified U.S. Senate study that documented the use of “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” as forms of punishment.

It has been known since the 1930s that these procedures serve no medical purpose. From the experiences of medics tending wounded soldiers on the battlefield and from volunteer studies, doctors learned long ago that rectally administered food or fluid is barely absorbed. Most absorption – such as that of rectally-administered drugs – occurs in the small intestine, well past the colon. The last foot of the colon – the sigmoid and rectum – stores feces awaiting evacuation and is not useful in uptake of fluids or nutrients. What was done to Nashiri and others at “Gitmo” served no purpose but to humiliate and torture them.  

Source: New York Times

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