Content Section

Right or Wrong, Force-Feeding Is Ugly: An Illustrated Guide

At Guantanamo Bay, 44 hunger strikers are kept alive with an incredibly painful, ethically questionable, and politically sensitive procedure. Here, in excruciating detail, is how it works.

Prisoners say it’s unbearably awful. One lawyer calls it ‘brutal, inhuman, and merciless.’ A recent article in a medical journal called it ‘aggravated assault.’ What exactly is force-feeding, and should the U.S. government be forcing it upon dozens of inmates at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? Below, a step-by-step explanation. For more on the ongoing quagmire, click here. For an explanation from our NewsBeast Labs tumblr about how we built it, click here.

Scroll down or use arrows
  • Step 1

    Guards strap the detainee down and put a mask over his face that keeps his mouth from moving so he can't spit or bite.

    Source: DoD
  • Step 2

    A sterile surgical lubricant such as olive oil is applied to the nostril. The feeding tube, which can be as large as the nostril itself, is snaked into the nasal cavity. Patients report extreme pain and excessive tearing up during this step since this area is rich in nerve endings.

  • Step 3

    The tube continues down through the throat, creating a tightness that makes breathing difficult. At this point, patients typically feel pressure on their chest and lungs. Some say it feels like they're drowning.

    Source: DoD
  • Step 4

    Staff tape the tube to the detainee's nose to prevent biting or swallowing it. Eighty to 750 ml of a nutritional substance, such as Ensure, is funneled through the tube. Reglan, a drug to aid digestion and known to cause Parkinsons-like side effects if taken for long periods, can be given if the detainee is "nauseated or bloating after tube insertion."

  • Step 5

    The procedure can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. After which, the tube is slowly pulled out. Until the body becomes accustomed to force-feeding, many patients suffer from chronic diarrhea, abdominal distension, bloating, cramping, and constipation.