Hungering for Justice at Guantanamo

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Common Dreams

Hungering for Justice at Guantanamo

On Saturday, U.S. military prison guards at Guantanamo fired rubber bullets at prisoners to try and stop their ongoing hunger strike. The prison reaction only exacerbates the situation. Reports indicate that many of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been on hunger strike since February 6th. (Although the U.S. military acknowledges 43, lawyers say the number is well above 100.) At least 13 are so thin and weak that they are being painfully force fed. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has declared force-feeding prisoners “a form of torture,” so one could argue, the U.S. torture at Guantanamo continues at this very moment.

The grave injustice of Guantanamo must end immediately. President Obama and the U.S. government need to address the issues of the hunger strikers now before one prisoner dies. The death of one of these prisoners will turn millions more around the world against us. Even if U.S. officials do not care for human rights, their deaths will be disastrous for the U.S.

But the demands of the hunger are perfectly reasonable and legal under international law. They want an immediate end to indefinite detention, torture, and poor conditions.

Meanwhile, as many as 86 prisoners have been cleared for immediate release. Yet they are still being held! They need to be released this week, or better, today.

Most fundamental of all, the U.S. hell hole of Guantanamo needs to be closed immediately.

I think few Americans really understand what’s happening at Guantanamo—how we hold people indefinitely, refuse to allow them to stand in court, torture them, deny them water or healthcare or even access to lawyers. Why not let democracy play out, let them stand in court, or release them if they’ve been cleared for release? Or are we a totalitarian state?

The only way this will stop is if many more of us lend our voices to pressure the government to end its injustice and torture and return to democracy and justice.

Last week, Reuters reported that the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross called upon President Obama to do what he could to end the hunger strike and close Guantanamo. President Peter Maurer said he had pressed Obama, senior administration officials and U.S. lawmakers to work harder to address the Guantanamo prisoners' legal predicament, according to Reuters.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay also called on Washington last week to close the Guantanamo prison, according to Reuters, saying the indefinite imprisonment of many detainees violated international law.

The Facts of Guantanamo
The Center for Constitutional Rights lists a few basic facts about Guantanamo, which are worth recalling:

  • 779 men have been brought to and held in Guantanamo since January 2002, all of whom were Muslim.
  • 604 men have been transferred from Guantanamo.
  • 166 men remain imprisoned at Guantanamo.
  • 92 percent of the men ever held in Guantanamo, according to the U.S. government, are not “Al-Qaeda fighters.”
  • 86 men have been cleared for release from Guantanamo but remain in detention, including 56 men from Yemen.
  • 46 men are slated for indefinite detention without charge or trial. The U.S. government says they will not be prosecuted or released.
  • 22 or more prisoners were under 18 when captured.
  • 12 or more men fear torture or persecution in their countries of nationality. These men will remain in detention until other countries offer them safe havens and a chance to rebuild their lives.
  • 10 years or more is the length of time most men have been held at Guantanamo without charge or trial.
  • 9 men have died in Guantanamo.
  • 0 senior government officials, including former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney, have been held accountable for the wrongful detention and torture at Guantanamo.

A Letter from 25 Human Rights Organizations

Last Thursday, over thirty protests were held across the country calling for an end to indefinite detention and torture and the closing of Guantanamo. Besides the glaring human rights violations, protesters cited the high financial cost of maintaining the disastrous Guantanamo prison and the continued tarnishing of the U.S. image around the world.

Meanwhile twenty five prominent human rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday calling for the immediate closing of Guantanamo and steps to end the hunger strike legally and humanely. Organizations included the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, National Lawyers Guild and Physicians for Human Rights.

“If ever there were a moment to act upon the promise you made over four years ago to shutter the prison, it is now,” the letter reads. “For several weeks, major news outlets, attorneys for the prisoners, and even military officials have been reporting that there is a large hunger strike occurring among the men detained at Guantánamo. The current situation is the predictable result of continuing to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge for more than 11 years. Therefore, we urge you to begin working to transfer the remaining detained men to their home countries or other countries for resettlement, or to charge them in a court that comports with fair trial standards. We also urge you to appoint an individual within your administration to lead the transfer effort.”

“We urge you to order the relevant authorities to take swift measures to humanely and lawfully address the immediate causes of the hunger strike in a manner consistent with international standards of medical ethics before irreparable harm occurs to the prisoners,” the letter concludes. “Moreover, we urge you to take steps to address the root of the problem by fulfilling your promise to close Guantanamo without further delay.”

A recent editorial by The Boston Globe urged President Obama to close the prison because keeping Guantánamo open is “a challenge to our reputation around the world.” In another editorial, the New York Times said the prisoners’ action is “exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there,” and indefinite detention is the “essence of what has been wrong with Guantánamo from the start.”

Over the last two weeks, friends at Witness Against Torture, have held a national seven day fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers, generated over 500 letters to the prison, many phone calls to the White House and Pentagon, and helped facilitate protests in over 30 cities on April 11th. Witness Against Torture asks us to pressure the U.S. government to bring justice to the Guantanamo prisoners. They want us to flood the White House and Congress with phone calls, as well as to fast, pray, and vigil with the hunger strikers. To find out more about what you can do, visit www.witnesstorture.org.

Perhaps if more of us lend our voices to this campaign for justice, we will help save a few lives. Let’s hope and pray that one day soon we as a people will renounce torture and indefinite detention, return to the ideals of democracy and justice, uphold international law and every human right, and pursue nonviolent solutions to conflict.

Rev. John Dear

Rev. John Dear is an author, activist and lecturer who teaches nonviolence in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day. He is the author of many books, including: Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action; Jesus the Rebel: Bearer of God's Peace and Justice; Transfiguration: A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and Our World, and his autobiography, A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World. He writes a weekly online column for the National Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org. For further information, see: www.johndear.org

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