To America's everlasting shame, the Bush/Cheney regime continues to incur almost universal condemnation for its lawless and inhuman policies towards those captured/seized in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere and thrown into US-run prisons. There have been enough stories of false arrests or paid bounter hunters turning over members of rival tribes and sects as "insurgents" or "al Qaeda," to go along with those "legitimately" seized during what passes for military operations — operations which in truth are often no better than US forces breaking down the doors of Iraqi homes and seizing those suspected of resisting the American occupation. With the US occupation becoming increasingly hated by the Iraqis, the pool of potential resistance is probably growing a lot faster than US forces can arrest suspects, and the increased presence of more US troops will likely exacerbate that situation.
No one argues against the notion that in a genuine war, combatants must detain captured soldiers from the other side. But even putting aside arguments against the "legitimacy" of our wars, instead of treating even the "legitimate" detainees as prisoners of war and according them the full rights promised to such prisoners by international law, the United States continues to insist, despite universal condemnation, that its detainees deserve worse treatment than what international law guarantees to prisoners of war. The evil and self-defeating stupidity of this policy is evident to almost everyone except the Bush/Cheney regime (Gates possibly excepted) and its remaining, mindlessly loyal 30 percenters.
Nowhere is this continuing stain on America's honor doing more serious damage to our interests, our prestige and our ability to walk with pride and safety in the world than at Guantanamo, where a prison has been deliberately built to sustain the argument that it is outside the normal requirements of American law. But it is that very "extra-legal" argument, codified in the Military Commissions Act and it's "kangaroo courts" by a shameless Republican-led Congress last year, and accepted for now by an all too tolerant Supreme Court, that is fostering even worse conditions at Guantanamo.
If you tell a group of desperate men that they're in a system that is outside the law, with no meaningful recourse and no meaningful checks on the recurrence of cruel and inhuman treatment other than the whims of their jailors, you've essentially told them they have no reason to live — or no reason to fear dying. And once this is widely known by potential combatants, as it surely is, then you give them every reason to fight you to the death rather than talk or surrender.
So it should come as no surprise that there has been a recent surge in Gitmo prisoners undergoing hunger strikes, either to create enough attention to force changes or simply to kill themselves. From a late Sunday article in the New York Times:
A new, long-term hunger strike has broken out at the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with more than a dozen detainees subjecting themselves to daily force-feeding to protest their treatment, military officials and lawyers for the detainees said.
Lawyers for several hunger strikers said their clients' actions were driven by harsh conditions in a new maximum security complex to which about 160 prisoners have been moved since December.
The 13 detainees now on hunger strikes is the highest number to endure the force-feeding regimen on an extended basis since early 2006, when the military broke a long-running strike with a new policy of strapping prisoners into "restraint chairs" while they are fed by plastic tubes inserted through their nostrils. . . .
"We don't have any rights here, even after your Supreme Court said we had rights," one hunger striker, Majid al-Joudi, told a military physician, according to medical records released recently under a federal court order. "If the policy does not change, you will see a big increase in fasting." . . .
Lawyers for several detainees being held in the new maximum security complex, called Camp 6, compared it to "super-max" prisons in the United States. The major differences, they said, are that the detainees have limited reading material and no television, and that only 10 of the roughly 385 men at Guantánamo have been charged.
The Camp 6 inmates are generally locked in their 8-by-10-foot cells for at least 22 hours a day, emerging only to exercise in small wire cages and shower. Besides those exercise periods, they can talk with other prisoners only by shouting through food slots in the steel doors of their cells.
"My wish is to die," one reported hunger striker in the camp, Adnan Farhan Abdullatif, a 27-year old Yemeni, told his lawyer on Feb. 27, according to recently declassified notes of the meeting. "We are living in a dying situation."
I have no idea what these men have done, or why. Given the track record, some (perhaps many) are likely innocent; others not. But I don't care, because what they've done is not the point. This is about us, about who we are and what we stand for. No human being deserves to be treated in this manner. No government has the moral right to treat any human being this way. Under George Bush and Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Libby, Addington, Yoo, Hayes, et al, our government has become immoral, inhumane and lawless, and it needs to be changed. And those responsible should be held accountable. Enough.
Return to: Guantanamo