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Judge dismisses Guantanamo suit, but urges Obama to address ‘degrading’ force-feeding

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An officer at the currently closed Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, June 27, 2013. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

A federal judge dismissed a suit from a Guantanamo detainee who argued that the government will infringe upon his religious freedom by force-feeding him during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which begins Tuesday.

Jihad Dhiab, a Syrian detainee who was cleared for release by the Guantanamo Review Task Force in 2009 but has remained imprisoned, sued with three other detainees over the military's policy of forcibly feeding detainees who are on hunger strike and lose a certain amount of their body weight.

Dhiab claimed that the forced feeding would violate his religious freedom during the month of Ramadan, when devotees are supposed to fast until sundown each day. It is the U.S military and prisons policy not to allow prisoners to starve themselves, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Medical Association and other groups have said the practice is inhumane and that people should have the right to starve themselves in protest. Dhiab is one of 45 Guantanamo prisoners on a force-feed list, with a total of 106 captives on hunger strike. Only 60 of the 166 Guantanamo prisoners are not currently on hunger strike.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia does not have jurisdiction over Guantanamo prisoners because they are enemy combatants, and thus could not order the force-feeding stopped. But she did issue a strongly worded message to President Barack Obama over what she called the "painful, humiliating and degrading" forced feeding, quoting the president's own words against the practice. Kessler writes:

Even though this Court is obligated to dismiss the Application for lack of jurisdiction, and therefore lacks any authority to rule on Petitioner's request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue. In a speech on May 23,2013, President Barack Obama stated, "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. . . Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that "[t]he President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States ..." It would seem to follow, therefore, that the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority-- and power-- to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Congress has passed legislation to prevent civilian or military trials at Guantanamo. Though 86 of the remaining 166 detainees at Gitmo have been cleared for release, many of their home countries will not accept them.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the specifics of the litigation at his daily press briefing Tuesday, but said "we don’t want these individuals to die. And, you know, the action being taken is to prevent that from happening." Obama "understands that this is a challenging situation," he added.

--Olivier Knox contributed to this report.

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