A crowd of news media and antiwar protesters are enthusiastically huddled on a busy Washington, D.C. sidewalk. For many here, jarring sounds of honking cars and construction crews can’t alter their sense of suspense, intrigue and excitement. Moments later, eyes are fixed on a frail middle-aged man who joins them to prepare for his anticipated, and what some would call, gruesome event. “I am here to show in the light of day, the torture that happens in the darkness,” he proudly proclaims.
The center of attention, Andres Thomas Conteris, a tall, slender, thinly bearded and bespectacled human rights activist, is going to publically demonstrate his brutal version of force-feeding. Once settled he sharply yells, “I give my consent.” Conteris’ event, one of four he’s already staged around the world, is designed to demonstrate alleged abuse of at least two-dozen detainees currently on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. He says a group of terrorist suspects, who are protesting alleged maltreatment by U.S. military captors, are being violently force-fed twice a day. “Plastic tubes are forcibly penetrated into an orifice of the body against their will,” says Conteris. “They are being raped through the nose.” He says staff at Guantanamo Bay inflict pain by using large uncomfortable hoses during the procedure. “The thicker ones are easier to place and more food can go in rapidly,” says Conteris. “If they were more humanitarian they would use smaller tubes.”
In response, the Pentagon released a statement from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel which says, “We have a responsibility, an ethical responsibility, to assure the health and well-being of every detainee and certainly we’re doing everything we can to do that.”
But Conteris sharply disagrees as he sits patiently, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, arms and legs tightly strapped to his wheelchair. Moments later a man with a bullhorn authoritatively says, “The feeding can commence.” Within seconds a certified nurse inserts a feeding tube in Conteris’ nostril. “It’s absolute agony,” he yells, sweat soaking his forehead and tears flowing down his cheeks. The circle of news media tightens around him and camera bulbs flash as he thrashes violently, waling in pain. Amid loud screams, Conteris musters enough strength to say, “When something is in your throat… your body wants to vomit.”
Roughly five minutes later, after the liquid formula has been administered, the nurse gently removes the feeding tube from Conteris’ nose. Each tug is accompanied by sobbing, screaming and an uncontrollable flow of mucus and saliva. “We’re not meant to have plastic down our throats,” yells Conteris. “It just breaks my heart.” Once the hose is removed, he takes a deep breath and continues to cry. Moments later, physically broken but mentally undeterred, Conteris regains composure and proclaims his commitment to fighting the alleged brutal force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay prison. “I will continue with the help of others,” says Conteris. “If I am not able to do it, someone will take my place so we will continue to show… the torture that happens in the shadows.”