Guantánamo: The Hunger Strike and the Hellhole of Made-in-America Torture

From Revolution | May 6, 2013

"I've been on a hunger strike since February 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

"I've been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

"I could have been home years ago—no one seriously thinks I am a threat—but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a 'guard' for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don't even seem to believe it anymore. But they don't seem to care how long I sit here, either....

"The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one."

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, imprisoned at Guantánamo
without charges of any kind for over 11 years

The hunger strike at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay will soon be entering its fourth month. (For background, see Revolution interview with journalist Andy Worthington—"Hunger Strike at Guantánamo Bay: 'Respect us or kill us'") One hundred and thirty prisoners are now refusing food, according to David Remes, a lawyer who represents 17 of them. Carlos Warner, also a lawyer for the prisoners, recently said prison officials have been force feeding at least 24 of the men. Warner added that it seems the military authorities are rotating people on and off forced feeding.

Forced feeding is a form of torture that involves strapping the prisoner into a chair and shoving a rubber tube into the nose, through the esophagus and into the stomach. The American Medical Association has condemned the use of forced feeding, and its president wrote a letter to the U.S. State Department saying, "The AMA has long endorsed the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which is unequivocal on the point: Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by a physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such as voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially."

The spokesman for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights said of the forced feeding at Guantánamo, "…feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting."

But the U.S. government, under its commander-in-chief Barack Obama, continues to torture these men and to imprison them without charges or hope of release.

Cruelty Without End

The prison camp at Guantánamo was opened in 2002 to hold people the U.S. captured in its "global war on terror." Close to 800 people have been imprisoned there; 166 remain today. Over half of these men have been cleared for release by the U.S. but remain incarcerated indefinitely.

Obama claims Congress has tied his hands and prevented him from closing Guantánamo. "They (Congress) would not let us close it," he said at an April 30 press conference. As a legal matter, this is bullshit. The president has the power to transfer prisoners out of Guantánamo. Over 500 prisoners were released during the Bush years. Under Obama, as Reuters news agency reported, "releases have slowed to a trickle" and "no prisoners have left this year."

Obama's cheap excuse is also moral bankruptcy and spineless hypocrisy. But Obama's refusal to move to close Guantánamo for the first 4½ years of his presidency, and to even speak much about it until prisoners there forced his hand as they approached painful death while being tortured by U.S. military personnel, reveals more about the predatory system of U.S. capitalism-imperialism Obama represents than it does about his personal deficiencies.

Establishing Guantánamo as a prison camp was intended not just to imprison captives but to send a message to the entire world that the U.S. could do whatever it wants to whomever it wants. CIA operatives "joked" that the name for Guantánamo's prison should be "Strawberry Fields" because the U.S. could hold prisoners there "forever," as the Beatles song goes.

But 11 years after the prison camp/torture center was founded, the message the world is receiving from Guantánamo is not of the American empire's invincibility, but of its limitless cruelty. The 100 plus men on the verge of death, strapped into chairs with tubes shoved into and yanked out of their bodies, locked in cages in a remote prison camp, have brought to millions a focused picture of the hideous features of American "justice." They have shown that even in the most arduous and unbearable of circumstances it is possible to stand up to the swaggering might of the American military.

Complicity vs. Resistance

When Barack Obama first ran for president in 2007, he promised that once in the White House, he would close Guantánamo and follow the Geneva Conventions for treatment of prisoners. All too many people believed that promise and thought that Obama's ascension to the presidency would put an end to the nightmare Bush years of endless war and legitimized torture. But Obama has continued, and in many ways extended and deepened, Bush's campaign of war, torture, endless detention, and spying.

At the end of April, Obama said, "I am going to go back at this. I'm going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this [keeping Guantánamo open] is not something that's in the best interests of the American people."

The truth is that the "best interests" Obama talks about are those of the U.S. empire, a global system of capitalism-imperialism that is the source of countless horrors around the world—from death-trap sweatshops to violence and degradation against women, wars that have killed and displaced millions, mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth in this country, environmental destruction that threatens the very existence of life on the planet, and many others. The interests of this system are NOT the interests of the vast majority of people, including those here in the U.S. And the more that people in this country turn to Obama and "our" government in general for "protection from terrorists," the more that horrible crimes against humanity, such as the torture of the men in Guantánamo, will be perpetrated in our name.

The real interests of the vast majority of people in this country are to oppose the crimes of the U.S. empire—to stop thinking like Americans and start thinking about humanity, and to act on that conviction.

A System Without Legitimacy

The hunger strike at Guantánamo has brought this dungeon and all its horrors to world attention. Obama revealed the real reason for his sudden concern about the situation when he said on April 30 that "Guantánamo 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."

In other words, Obama and the imperialist rulers he represents are concerned that their strategic interests are being damaged by prisoners starving themselves to death to protest their unspeakably inhumane treatment at the hands of the country that proclaims itself the champion of "freedom and democracy and the rule of law." The image of America to millions of people across the planet has become the image of Guantánamo—hooded men in orange jumpsuits, held prisoner behind barbed wire, forced to their knees by heavily armed captors.

One reason Obama essentially ignored the status of Guantánamo for so long is because he has directed U.S. policy to focus on killing, not capturing, those targeted by the U.S. as opponents—especially through the use of drones. John Bellinger, himself a war criminal and an official in the Bush administration who helped draw up the initial U.S. policy on use of drones, recently said, "This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida [at Guantánamo], they are going to kill them." And these drone strikes during the years of Obama's presidency have killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, including children.

There's an old saying that was once famously mangled by George W. Bush, and is appropriate for people taken in by Obama's 2007 promise: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." It is shameful—and worse, it is complicity with the crime against humanity that is Guantánamo—to chase the illusion that this time he "really means it," so we should not "rock the boat" by sharply calling out these crimes and waging determined resistance.

A system that jails people indefinitely, without charges, in defiance of its own laws and international law, has lost all legitimacy. A system that routinely tortures people it claims to be its opponents—and justifies this torture in its legal doctrine—has demonstrated beyond any doubt that it is guilty of monstrous crimes against humanity.

The courageous hunger strike at Guantánamo has thrust this hellhole of made-in-America torture and torment to the world's attention. It is crucial, and of utmost urgency, that the fight to close down Guantánamo be intensified, deepened, and broadened in the days ahead.

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Worldwide Protests Against Guantánamo

Protests demanding the closure of Guantánamo have occurred in several U.S. cities, and across the world. More are planned in the days and weeks ahead, in particular the "International Days of Action" initiated by the London Guantánamo Campaign, for May 17-19, marking 100 days of the Guantánamo hunger strike.

In addition, an Internet petition demanding the closure of Guantánamo gathered over 65,000 signatures in its first day online.

More information about these important activities can be found at worldcantwait.org, andyworthington.co.uk, and londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com.

This article first appeared on revcom.us.