Amid calls for President Obama to allow independent physicians to visit hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a spokesman for the facility said Thursday that no doctors working there had balked at feeding inmates against their will.

More than 150 physicians and other health care professionals published an open letter to the president this week requesting access to more than 100 prisoners refusing to eat to protest against their detention without a trial. The detainees had requested that independent doctors be granted access to their medical records and entry to Guantanamo to treat them.

“We endorse their request, and are prepared to visit them under appropriate conditions, to assist in their recovery and release, and certify when we are confident it is medically safe for them to fly,” said the letter to Obama, which was published Wednesday in The Lancet. “We have the deepest sympathy for the hunger strikers, the military doctors, and your predicaments. We offer our services to visit, examine and advise them, and to assist in any way that is acceptable to all parties.”

Outgoing president of the American Medical Association Jeremy Lazarus elsewhere wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in late April to say that force-feeding prisoners violates tenets of medical ethics.

“Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” Lazarus said. “The AMA has long endorsed the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which is unequivocal on the point: ‘Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.'”

Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a Guantanamo spokesman, said that no doctors, nurses or corpsmen had refused to feed the striking prisoners.

“They signed up to carry out lawful orders,” The Associated Press reported Durand as saying. “This is a lawful order.”

The hunger strike at the U.S. base in Cuba is in its fourth month. Officials say 104 of the 166 detainees were striking against their indefinite detention. As many as 44 of the protesters are strapped down each day and force-fed liquid nutrients through a nasal tube.

“We do it to preserve life,” Durand said. He denied claims from prisoners that the procedure is painful.

A lawyer for one of the prisoners disagreed. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Walter Ruiz unsuccessfully sought an order to bar the use of force-feeding on his client.

“The reality is that it’s not the preservation of a life,” Ruiz said of force-feeding. “It’s the preservation of existence. There is no life. In essence, by keeping these people here we have already killed their soul, and their spirit and taken away their dignity.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Associated Press via The Guardian:

On Wednesday, Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate intelligence committee, released a letter she wrote to the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, after visiting Guantánamo in which she urged the Pentagon to re-evaluate the treatment of the hunger strikers, saying “the current approach raises very important ethical questions”.

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