Justice Detained, Justice Denied: Indefinite Detention and Torture Continue as Law of the Land

Jill McLaughlin | August 16, 2015

After years of struggle to learn, expose and stop what the American Psychological Association did to support U.S. torture and detention policies, we celebrate a recent victory for people of conscience who have long spoken out and forced revelations of 14 years of sordid, and criminally complicit, history.  Last week, the APA voted to ban psychologists from participating in the interrogation and torturing of detainees at Guantanamo, on vessels in international waters, and in black sites.

This was a battle hard fought for those psychologists whose conscience was shocked by the fact that the APA had allowed its members to take part in these violations of human rights. This was no small matter and we applaud those members who stayed in the fight to get this ban passed.

Roy Eidelson, a psychologist leading the fight to expose and ban collusion with torture wrote that the vote of 157-1 in the APA provides reason for optimism, yet "It remains unclear whether and how the APA’s relationship with the Department of Defense, the CIA, and related agencies will change. Undo deference to government preferences and priorities led directly to the collusion that sacrificed professional ethics for political expediency."

True justice for those that have been detained and tortured by the U.S. remains... detained. The Obama administration is in internal debate about whether or not to release Guantanamo prisoner Tariq Ba Odah, who has been on hunger strike since 2007 and now weighs less than 75 pounds. His lawyer has repeatedly pleaded for his release due to his decline in health. From what we know, State Department officials are in favor of an immediate release but the Defense Department doesn't want to set a precedent and allow hunger strikers to get released, even when they are already cleared for release. This cynicism is glaringly evident if one is aware that many of these prisoners have never been charged with any wrong doing. Charlie Savage in The New York Times Guantanamo Hunger Striker's Petition Divides Officials:

Defense Department officials say that not contesting Mr. Ba Odah’s lawsuit would create an incentive for other detainees to stop eating, too, causing problems at the military-run prison. Justice Department litigators, whose job is to defend the government’s authority, also want to fight Mr. Ba Odah’s petition, officials said. Omar Farah, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing Mr. Ba Odah, argued that other detainees could not follow his client’s example because Mr. Ba Odah appears to have developed an underlying medical problem that is preventing his body from properly absorbing nutrition no matter how much he is force-fed.

When the world’s attention, especially that of world leaders and celebrities was drawn to the plight of the Guantanamo hunger strikers in April and May of 2013 many wondered if Guantanamo would move from being a prison to a tomb. That grim question is still not out of the realm of possibility.

The Obama administration may close Guantanamo, but not release those prisoners who have never been charged, and instead move them to federal prisons in the U.S. where they could languish for many more years and die in the custody of the U.S. Government. Others in Washington want the prison to remain open, keeping it as an international symbol of U.S., and an implicit threat to any person or nation who thinks the U.S. won't put someone away for ever. These are the terms of the actual debate between people running this country. Not once have these debates been about delivering true justice to those unjustly detained there. If these men are not released Guantanamo becomes their tomb whether in Cuba or on U.S. soil.

Then there is the constant peril that prisoners are subjected to through continual force feeding when they go on hunger strike to protest their detention. The risk of infection is high as the tubes are not cleaned after each feeding and there is the possibility that the tube goes down the airway causing the prisoner to stop breathing. This is yet another way that Guantanamo can become a tomb. Recently a judge has ordered the release of videos that document the force feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, a decision the government is appealing.

The world will yet again be compelled to speak out and demand justice for these men. But will people living in the U.S. join the rest of the world in struggling for that? We should do all we can to stir the collective conscience to not accept this denial of justice one minute more. 

Jill McLaughlin is a member of the steering committee of World Can't Wait.