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Families Decry Cruelty of Indefinite Detention as Senate Holds Gitmo Hearing
First hearing in five years reveals legislative inaction despite America's declining human rights reputation
"When in 2002, I was told that Nabil was detained by the Americans, I thought that at least he would have a right to a fair trial. I thought his rights would be respected and that justice would prevail. What I feel today is mostly incomprehension. How can this nation, one that prides itself of defending human rights, close its eyes to these violations of its founding principles?" -Ahmed Hadjarab from France, uncle of Nabil Hadjarab
"My nephew Younous is cleared for release, yet he remains in Guantánamo. His young adulthood has been wasted during the 11 years of his detention. How many more years is he going to be in Guantánamo? I know this limbo is causing him a lot of pain,[...] and I spend sleepless nights thinking that he may do something to put an end to his anguish." -Abd Alhaq Barka, from Germany, uncle of Younous Chekkouri
"One of the worst things is the uncertainty, and the false hope that things are about to change. Sometimes I hear rumors that men have been released from Guantánamo and that Hisham is one of them. I miss and love my son so much that although my mind knows the rumors are probably false, my heart believes them every time. And every time I am devastated when I realize he is not coming home." -Maherzia Sliti from Tunisia, mother of Hisham Sliti
These were just some of the testimonies shared with members of Senate by the families of those held captive at the Guantanamo Bay detention center Wednesday, during a Senate Subcomittee hearing on the prison.
While reportedly called to examine proposals to enable the detention center's closure, the hearing—the first of its kind since 2009—spelled more indecision and procrastination on the part of both lawmakers and President Obama—who recently professed renewed interest in closing the facility but blamed Congress for the inaction.
However, as Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), noted during the hearing, "the administration could be doing more to close Guantanamo."
In addition to the families who sent letters describing the impact of their loved ones' imprisonment, the five attending enators took in testimony from human rights groups, think tanks and military leaders on the long-ignored issue of how best to proceed with the facility and the 86 individuals who have been cleared for transfer yet remain in indefinite detention.
"The reality is that every day that it remains open, the Guantanamo prison weakens our alliances, inspires our enemies and calls into question our commitment to human rights," said Durbin, who chairs the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights.
Other lawmakers, led by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), maintained the circuitous argument that, due to their ongoing and unjust imprisonment, once released these individuals are guaranteed to "return to threaten and kill more Americans."
Citing US intelligence estimates that 28 percent of the previously released detainees have "rejoined the fight," Cruz argued that remaining detainees "are probably even more prone to fight once released," because of their prolonged and cruel imprisonment, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
Countering this illogic, Elisa Massimo of Human Rights First noted that the threat of prisoner retaliation is "insignificant" compared with the hundreds of thousands of those who are incited to fight the US over the inhumane treatment of these individuals.
“Guantánamo does nothing to solve that problem. It probably makes it worse,” she said.
In addition to the 86 detainees who have been cleared for transfer, only 34 of the 166 total detainees have been charged with criminal violations or are being considered for such charges. The remaining 46 have been deemed "impossible to charge but too dangerous to release."
Ahead of the hearing, human rights watchdog group Witness Against Torture issued a statement to the hearing committee decrying the "myth of public indifference toward Guantánamo" as an excuse for official inaction. The group sites the detainees' ongoing hunger strike as a rallying point for many who "can scarcely comprehend that such a place as Guantánamo exists."
At least 106 of the detainees have engaged in the ongoing strike and roughly 45 are being force-fed—a practice denounced by the UN and the World Medical Association as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or torture.
“The words of these families speak powerfully of the damage to America’s reputation that Guantánamo still causes [and] are a stark reminder that the government’s response to the current hunger strike won’t just determine President Obama’s legacy; it will shape America’s image in the Muslim world for years to come," said Cori Crider, Strategic Director for the human rights charity Reprieve.