The Intercept Publishes Video of Force-Feeding in Federal Detention

contractors working at the detention center on ICE’s behalf began the process of involuntarily feeding Kumar in August 2019
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Photos: Video Screenshots

NEW YORK, NY – The Intercept has published an exclusive investigation and video of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) force-feeding a man engaged in a peaceful hunger strike.

According to José Olivares and Travis Mannon's reporting, Ajay Kumar left India in June 2018, eventually ending up at the U.S. border in California, where he declared his intention to seek political asylum. Kumar was then taken into ICE custody, but he expected to be released as he awaited his hearings. Instead, Kumar languished in detention for nearly a year. In July 2019, along with three other Indian asylum-seekers, he undertook a hunger strike, demanding release from ICE detention.

The agency responded by transferring him to an ICE jail in El Paso, Texas, operated by the firm Global Precision Systems. With a judge’s approval, contractors working at the detention center on ICE’s behalf began the process of involuntarily feeding Kumar in August 2019, 37 days after his last meal.

The process was captured on video:

“The process of watching this hourlong video was excruciating, knowing what Ajay was going through,” said Joanna Naples-Mitchell, research adviser for the U.S. at Physicians for Human Rights. “That was, perhaps, the most chilling thing about it: this kind of quiet, pernicious nature of the violence that was present throughout this video — and having these officers standing around him, and just this tremendous power imbalance and asymmetry between him and them.”

The shocking footage of Kumar's force-feeding is the “first publicly released video of force-feeding done under the auspices of the federal government.” According to ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards, whenever there is a “calculated use of force,” staff are required to use a handheld camera to record the incident.

The Intercept, with Ajay Kumar’s consent, requested the video through the Freedom of Information Act in January 2020. After ICE refused our request, The Intercept filed a lawsuit, and ICE subsequently agreed to turn over the footage, which is nearly one hour long. The 14-minute video released today includes excerpts from the obtained footage, as well as a recent interview with Kumar.

“We have to remember how coercive and how abusive the detention system actually is in the first place,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “In the context of that, it may be that people have tried to do everything else possible, but it sometimes becomes an option of last resort because there is simply nothing else to do in terms of controlling one’s own bodily autonomy.”

The practice of force-feeding incarcerated hunger strikers is widespread in U.S. federal facilities, including Guantánamo Bay. Historically, these procedures have been mired in secrecy. This is the first time the public has seen footage of a federally sanctioned force-feeding.

Log on the The Intercept's website to read their exclusive investigation on Anjay Kumar treatment by ICE:

About Travis Mannon:
Travis Mannon is a video producer based in Brooklyn. They produce, edit, and create motion graphics for news and opinion video for The Intercept website and social media platforms. They also pitch, develop, and produce original videos, with a particular emphasis on long and short-term OSINT and visual investigations. He received a master’s degree from NYU’s Studio 20 program, where he studied digital innovation in the media.

About José Olivares:
José Olivares is a Lead Producer for TI podcasts. He is a bilingual investigative journalist and audio producer whose work has focused on immigration, criminal justice, Latin America, and human rights. Prior to The Intercept, he was an associate producer for WNYC’s “The Takeaway.” In 2020, he was part of a team including ICIJ, The Intercept, WNYC, and others, who received a New York Press Club award for reporting on solitary confinement in immigration detention centers. He is originally from Mexico City and is based in Brooklyn.

About The Intercept:
The Intercept is an award-winning nonprofit news organization dedicated to holding the powerful accountable through fearless, adversarial journalism. Its in-depth investigations and unflinching analysis focus on surveillance, war, corruption, the environment, technology, criminal justice, the media and more.

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