A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.
At this very moment, there are approximately 130 prisoners on hunger strike in the prison facility operated by the United States military located at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Numerous reports and testimonials corroborate this: detainees’ lawyers, human rights advocates, the Red Cross, and others. Initially denying the very existence of the hunger strike, the military has now slowly acknowledged that there were indeed a small number of prisoners on hunger strike, only about 20… then 40, then 60, and now finally admitting that at least 100 prisoners are starving themselves to death in peaceful protest of their imprisonment. In response, the military forces at the base began force-feeding prisoners by inserting a tube through the nose and into the stomach, Widely acknowledge as one of the most painful procedures in medicine, this practice of force-feeding prisoners has been condemned as torture by human rights advocates around the world.
Many of these prisoners have been held for years with neither charge nor trial, including 86 of whom have been cleared for release but continue to be held, frequently in solitary confinement, for the indefinite future. Triggered by the Army’s complete stripping of prisoners’ cells on February 6th, the current crisis in Guantánamo comes on the heels of a bi-partisan report by the Constitution Project that concluded “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The report issued this month, also slams President Obama for his continuing lack of transparency and shunning of an effort to establish a national report to investigate the counter-terrorism programs of his administration.
Despite his ’08 campaign promise to close Guantánamo, President Obama has consistently brushed the matter aside time and time again. Now, with many of the prisoners facing death, Obama has drawn further criticism for focusing more on preparation for his comic appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner rather than addressing the increasingly desperate conditions of Gitmo detainees’. On April 13th the New York Times published (and buried on page A19) a letter by Guantánamo detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel; imprisoned since 2002, Hasan Moqbel details the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the prison camp:
“There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up… The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood. And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.”
Carlos Warner, an attorney with the Office of the Federal Defender, represents 11 detainees currently being held in Guantánamo placed responsibility for the crisis squarely on President Obama’s shoulders in a recent appearance on Democracy Now! “The president has no political will to end Guantánamo. This falls on the left… we have to cast blame on the president, he needs to pick up the ball and run with it or people are going to die.” Warner continues “The military is doing all the wrong things. I don’t blame the military. They have been an inenviable task: They’re in Guantánamo. But they’re doing all the wrong things in terms of ending the strike. They could end the strike, but more importantly, the president could end the strike if he took some time out of his busy schedule. He’s preparing for the correspondents’ dinner, and that drives us crazy because we see our clients dying. And in five, 10 minutes, he could at least make incredible progress on ending the hunger strike. And he has no will to do so.”
As the crisis continues to unfold, the federal government has consistently turned a cold shoulder or blatantly dismissed widely confirmed reports of human rights violations including extended solitary confinement, beatings, indefinite detention, and torture. On April 16th, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan denied emergency relief for Musaab al-Madhwani despite doctor reports that the Yemeni prisoner’s life is in imminent danger. The same physician also accused the prison facility of “deliberate indifference” upon observing al-Madhwani’s transfer to solitary confinement after physically collapsing during the week of April 8th. In his own moment of outrageous indifference, Hogan ruled that he didn’t have jurisdiction over the case and described the al-Madhwani’s condition as “self-manufactured.” Musaab al-Madhwani, imprisoned for more than a decade, has never been charged with a crime.
Last week, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel received a letter from the American Medical Association that condemned the continuing practice of force-feeding detainees, stating that “has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions.” Despite this, the U.S. government continues to insist the torturous force-feeding is a humane solution to the hunger strike.
One Muslim advisor to the Pentagon has predicted that the hunger strike will continue on until several prisoners have died, describing the government response, “…they are not done yet, and they will not be done until there is more than one death [at Guantánamo].”
Americans are now faced with a difficult question: What does it mean for the United States when we as a nation would rather watch a prisoner starve in protest rather than granting them their freedom? Rather than admitting we were wrong, that we got the wrong person; that we were wrong to lock people up and throw away the key; we as a nation would rather let innocent people live in solitary confinement: beaten to within inches of their lives, tortured, and ultimately starve to death. We are on the edge of a great precipice. At some point in the relatively near future, one of these people imprisoned in Guantánamo is going to die. They will have chosen death over another minute, month, or decade away from their homes and their families. Embodying the patriotic spirit of “give me liberty or give me death” these prisoners, recognizing the distant and almost forgotten dream of their liberty, are choosing death; the only option left to them.
This moment will come soon. The news will break across Twitter, Facebook, and maybe even some mainstream press like CNN or other cable outlets. Those who bother to notice this will pause and collectively observe the darkest day in the history of the Republic.
Illustration courtesy New York Times