Calorie Counter
Do they have this book at Gitmo? (photo: banoota on Flickr)

In May of 2009, Spencer Ackerman pointed out that the Steven Bradbury May 10, 2005 memo allowed reducing prisoners’ daily caloric intake to about half the recommended level for adult men in order to make them "more receptive" to interrogation. Today, there is a tidbit in Carol Rosenberg’s article about Guantanamo that suggests prisoners now are given between two and three times the recommended daily caloric intake. Why can’t Guantanamo count calories?

Here is Ackerman’s description of the Bradbury memo:

According to a recently declassified Justice Department document, the CIA believed that so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques like sleep deprivation worked better when a detainee’s resistance was weakened from hunger. The agency, with the legal approval of the Justice Department, employed a regimen that sharply restricted the caloric intake of detainees in its custody — an intake distinctly below federal nutritional guidelines for inmates in U.S. prisons.

Steven Bradbury, chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in during George W. Bush’s second term, provided an overview of an authorized CIA technique to manipulate detainee’s diets in order to make them receptive to interrogation. Using references to calories, Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005 memo, “[T]he recommended minimum calorie intake is 1,500 kcal/day, and in no event is the detainee allowed to receive less than 1,000 kcal/day.” While having his diet restricted, a detainee would be fed not solid food, but “commercial liquid diets (such as Ensure Plus).” The restricted diet, according to Bradbury’s memo, would be subject to “frequent medical monitoring,” and a detainee would be measured “weekly” to ensure that he did not lose more than “10 percent of his body weight,” which would trigger termination of the diet.

As Ackerman pointed out in the article, that was only about half the calories an adult male would require:

The National Academy of the Science’s Dietary Reference Intakes estimates nutritional requirements on a sliding scale depending on Body Mass Index and level of activity. But for adult men who stand just under five feet tall and who maintain a “sedentary” level of physical activity with a low body mass index, the minimum caloric requirement in the guideline is 1,848 calories. All other nutritional elements of the guideline require greater caloric intakes for adult men, ranging from 2,000 to 3,720 calories.

In Rosenberg’s article, she references a factsheet on the Guantanamo website that gives the number of calories provided daily to the prisoners. I found the sheet she mentioned and quote directly from it (pdf):

Detainee meals meet their cultural and dietary needs and cost approximately $3 million per year. Each detainee receives 5,500-6,000 calories per day and has six menus to choose from. Feast meals are served two times per week.

So, depending on the figure chosen for an adult male’s caloric needs, Guantanamo is providing somewhere between about twice as many calories (but it is highly unlikely that any Guantanamo prisoners are large enough and active enough to need the 3720 calories at the upper bound of normal; 3000 is a more likely upper bound) or even three times as many calories (if 2000 is taken as the likely requirement) as needed. Note also that prisoners are allowed to choose from among six diets, it doesn’t seem as though they are being served an excess amount just to assure that something present will appeal to them and that some choices will be passed over.

For some reason, the folks at Guantanamo just can’t quite get it right when it comes to counting calories.

Rosenberg’s article is worth reading in its entirety. Her mentioning of the caloric intake was only a side note on her main story. It turns out that the Pentagon has suddenly found a whole new level of sensitivity to Islam, as they have announced that during Ramadan (when Muslims fast during daylight hours), prisoners who have been on extended hunger strikes will only be force-fed during nighttime hours.

Even though the prisoners cannot taste the liquid diet being pumped into their stomachs through tubes, Rosenberg reports that the prisoners are said by the guards to prefer the butter pecan flavor of Ensure, because they can taste it if they burp later.

Finally, perhaps someone could explain to me the quote from a Guantanamo spokesman, who said about the hunger strikers that "not all hunger strikers are enteral feeders." Or maybe I don’t want to know what that means.