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Doctors attack US over Guantanamo

BBC | March 10 2006

More than 250 medical experts have signed a letter condemning the US for force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The doctors said physicians at the military prison had to respect inmates' right to refuse treatment.

The letter, in the medical journal, the Lancet, said doctors who used restraints and force-feeding should be punished by their professional bodies.

Some 500 terror suspects are being held without trial at Guantanamo Bay.

The US has argued that the Geneva Convention does not apply to prisoners at the camp, who, it says, are enemy combatants who continue to pose a threat to national security.

Human rights groups and the UN have urged the US to close down the facility.

Amnesty International said the "troubling" accusations in the doctors' letter underlined the need for the "independent medical examination of the prisoners.

'Nasal tubes'

The open letter in the Lancet was signed by more than 250 top doctors from seven countries - the UK, the US, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands.

"We urge the US government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as force-feeding and restraint chairs are abandoned," the letter said.

The doctors said the World Medical Association - a world body representing physicians, including those in the US - specifically prohibited force-feeding.

Detainees at the camp have said hunger-strikers were strapped into chairs and force-fed through tubes inserted in their noses.

More than 80 inmates are said to have gone on hunger strike in December last year - a figure that has now reportedly dropped to four.

Dr David Nicholl, a UK neurologist who initiated the Lancet letter, told the Reuters news agency the allegations of force-feeding represented "a challenge" to the American Medical Association, which is a signatory to the World Medical Association's code of conduct.

"Are they going to obey those declarations [forbidding force-feeding], or are... [they] literally not worth the paper they are written on?" he asked.

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