There are 166 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, and more than half are on a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment. As a result, many of these enemy combatants are force fed. Sliding a narrow tube down the inmates’ throat, they are pumped full of nutrients, and this has raised the ire of some lawyers, civil rights groups and even the medical community, calling the practice inhumane.

The Joint Detention Group at Guantanamo is in an impossible situation. On the one hand, they are obligated to look after the detainees and keep them alive. On the other hand, their efforts to do so are criticized, with some seeming to suggest forced feeding rivals the water-boarding controversy of years past.

As the issue is debated, recall the example of the hunger strikes by IRA prisoners in the 1980s. In that case, 10 prisoners starved themselves to death. That galvanized the northern Irish political will to resist British rule, which helped propel brutal IRA violence for the rest of the decade. The lesson is that letting prisoners die has dramatic consequences.

If the Guantanamo Bay detainees starved to death, there would be widespread condemnation of the military’s care of its prisoners. Since no one seems ready to shut down the facility (despite previous promises from President Obama), what choice does the Joint Detention Group have but to force feed the detainees?