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Weaponizing Food and the CIA Torture Report

By Conner Gordon
10 Dec 2014

The experience of food is one that runs to the core of our being. As humans, it is such an essential part of our lives that we rarely stop to question its function in everyday life – at least beyond which restaurant to go to after work. It is so central, in fact, that food could certainly become the vehicle for motives far more sinister.

It would seem that the CIA has picked up on this fact, to devastating effect. A recent report released by the Senate intelligence committee revealed a number of horrific abuses the agency had committed during the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program. Among them, a practice termed “rectal feeding”: the use of a patient’s rectum to infuse nutrition, even if no medical necessity for the procedure existed. The description of these techniques is extremely disturbing, to say the least:

“One CIA cable released in the report reveals that detainee Majid Khan was administered by enema his “‘lunch tray’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was ‘pureed and rectally infused’”. One CIA officer’s email was in the report quoted as saying ‘we used the largest Ewal [sic] tube we had.'”

Among a long list of other shocking methods of torture, this method stands out as particularly heinous. In some ways, the preparation and enjoyment of food is something we use to define ourselves as uniquely human. To violate that process, and use food as a weapon, not only destroys that sense but degrades the individual, stripped of their agency over controlling the nutrition that enters her or his body.

These developments are not new, nor are they limited in scope. For years the debate has raged over Guantanamo Bay forcefeeding practices and the observed destructive effects they have on the recipient.  It would seem, then, that this use of food as a weapon will likely be a concern long into the future.

Just how do we deal with the weaponization of food? Is it ethical to use in any circumstances, even against convicted terrorists or hunger-striking prisoners who would otherwise starve? Let us know in the comments.

Conner was a Graduate Fellow at the Prindle Institute from 2016-2018. Conner's writing focuses on memory, politics and culture. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Oregon.
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