Illustration: Carlos Latuff
The Guantanamo hunger strike that began on February 6 is looming ever larger on the editorial pages and at a recent Presidential press conference. Now lawyers say that as many as 130 of the 166 prisoners are participants, with at least 23 being force fed through tubes shoved up their noses.
At his April 30th press conference, Presidential Obama declared that “Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
So why is it still open? The President shifted the blame from his own shoulders to Congress, leaving Rep. Howard McKeon, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, to point out that the President had never exercised the power he has possessed since 2012 to waive on a case-by-case basis restrictions placed by Congress on the transfer of detainees.
Steps Obama could take to close Guantanamo were detailed in an article by Daphne Eviatar.
As she also pointed out in a letter to The New York Times,
The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act allows the president to transfer these detainees if the defense secretary certifies that it’s in the interest of United States national security and that measures will be taken to substantially mitigate the risks. President Obama can do that now for the 86 detainees already cleared. He can also finally create the Periodic Review Boards he promised two years ago that would scrutinize the basis for continued detention of the rest.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have joined The New York Times in forcefully calling for the prison to be shut down and urging Obama to shoulder his own responsibility for making that happen.
Anyone who can’t understand the recent upsurge in demands to close Guantanamo should read the excerpts of an astonishing Guantanamo story recently published by Slate.
During the years 2005-6, Mohamedou Oud Slahi, a Mauritanian who has spent over a decade in Guantanamo, wrote a 466-page manuscript describing the horrendous torture he endured during months of interrogation and his other prison experiences. Recently parts of it have been unclassified. They make harrowing reading.
Slahi, who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1990s, was suspected by the US of involvement in the 2000 Millennium plot to attack Los Angeles airport. He was investigated and cleared in Canada where he was living at the time, as well as by his home government of Mauritania and by Jordan, where he was ‘rendered’ for interrogation.
But rather than releasing him after these governments came up empty handed, the US took him first to Bagram, and then to Guantanamo, where Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld signed off on a hellish interrogation plan. You can read Slahi’s version of how he was treated here and here.
In March 2010, District Judge James Robertson granted his petition of habeas corpus, saying he could find no evidence that Slahi was part of Al Qaeda. He ordered him to be released.
But the Obama Administration appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court which has never upheld a successful habeas petition. Predictably, it reversed Judge Robertson’s ruling, and so Slahi remains at Guantanamo.
One of the people who hopes Slahi will soon be released and says that he deserves “some kind of help” is the former chief prosecutor of Guantanamo, US Air Force Col. Morris Davis.
When asked why Slahi has been there so long, this is what Col. Davis had to say:
When Slahi came in, I think the suspicion was that they’d caught a big fish. He reminded me of Forrest Gump in the sense that there were a lot of noteworthy events in the history of al-Qaida and terrorism, and there was Slahi, lurking somewhere in the background. He was in Germany, Canada, different places that look suspicious, and that caused them to believe that he was a big fish, but then when they really invested the effort to look into it, that’s not where they came out. I remember a while after I got there, in early 2007, we had a big meeting with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice, and we got a briefing from the investigators who worked on the Slahi case, and their conclusion was there’s a lot of smoke and no fire….
Yeah, the ultimate conclusion was, ‘This looks odd, and that looks odd, and that—and at the end of the day all we can show is that it … well, it looks odd.’ … They could never directly link him to any attempt to cause any real harm.
And yet there he remains, in indefinite detention, potentially forever, along with 165 other men, 86 of whom have been cleared for release.
The force feeding chair at GITMO
Col. Davis, a 20-year Air Force veteran, has launched a petition drive calling on President Obama to shut Guantanamo. It now has over 147,000 signatures. Please add your name if you have not already done so – sign here and ask your friends and colleagues to do the same!
What else can we do to press the case that the shame of Guantanamo must be brought to an end?
CodePink is organizing a rolling fast in solidarity with the hunger-striking prisoners. More than a thousand people have so far agreed to fast for at least 24 hours.
You can get involved by visiting this site and undertaking this pledge and these actions:
I pledge to join the global hunger strike and actions for justice for Guantanamo prisoners by fasting for at least 24 hours.
I acknowledge that I will never know what it is like to hunger strike under conditions as inhumane as those within Guantanamo, but hereby join the global hunger strike in hopes that it, among a variety of other efforts, will provide an impetus for policy change.
I call on President Obama to release the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release, formally charge and try the remaining prisoners in fair and open proceedings, and close the shameful prison in Guantanamo — as he promised to do when he ran for office.
I will also make the following calls during meal times:
– Call the White House and insist that President Obama fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo: 202-456-1111, 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.
– Call the U.S. Southern Command to decry the conditions at Guantanamo: 305.437.1213
– Call the Department of Defense: 703-571-3343
Or, e-mail or write Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel and demand that he rapidly resume the transfers of all the men the Obama Administration does not intend to charge. Address: Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, 1000 Defense Pentagon, Washington, DC 20301.
If you are not in a position to fast, please make the telephone calls and write to the Secretary of Defense. And ask your friends and colleagues to do so too.
The desperate hunger strike has given Americans of conscience an opportunity to make our voices heard. If we do not succeed in pressuring President Obama to fulfill the first promise he made on taking office in 2009, the prison at Guantanamo could well endure for decades to come as a shameful emblem of American lawlessness.