Sunday, April 7, 2013

A hunger strike of innocents at Guantanamo


On torture, the Times' editorial page is often absolutely right and the Obama administration is legally and morally wrong (it is a law-defiant, torturing, protective of elite war criminals like my student Condi Rice power). Over a hundred people are waging a hunger strike against their long, arbitrary detention in the Guantanamo secret prison. The main responsibility for not closing this symbol of contempt for the rule of law and decency is, of course, Congress which joins false patriotism - an allegiance not to any honorable value but to fear, racism and criminality - with opportunism (fear of being baited for being "soft" on terrorists).

The Obama administration has made itself deeply, corruptly and - under the Convention against Torture which is also American law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article 6, section 2: treaties signed by the United States are the highest law of the land) - criminally involved...

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In Madrid, courts of law courageously try those responsible for blowing up the Atocha station. In contrast, the Bush-Obama approach is afraid to try criminals in American courts (Obama initially tried to do something better, but was blocked by cowardly opposition). Worse yet, the government, with their secret prisons involving torture and indefinite detention, has made itself, in central respects having to do with the integrity of the rule of law and what American stands for, no better than our enemies.

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Of the actors involved in this picture, it is easy to admire the hunger strikers and hard to identify with others. Just change the names, as John Rawls suggests in his idea of an original position, and you will see - unbearably - what these practices amount to.

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Here is the Times Saturday:

EDITORIAL
Hunger Strike at Guantánamo
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: April 6, 2013

The hunger strike that has spread since early February among the 166 detainees still at Guantánamo Bay is again exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there. The government claims that around 40 detainees are taking part. Lawyers for detainees report that their clients say around 130 detainees in one part of the prison have taken part.

The number matters less than the nature of the protest, however: this is a collective act of despair. Prisoners on the hunger strike say that they would rather die than remain in the purgatory of indefinite detention. Only three prisoners now at Guantánamo have been found guilty of any crime, yet the others also are locked away, with dwindling hope of ever being released.

Detainees there have gone on hunger strikes many times since the facility opened in 2002. A major strike in 2005 involved more than 200 detainees. But those earlier actions were largely about the brutality of treatment the detainees received. The protest this time seems more fundamental. Gen. John Kelly of the Marines, whose Southern Command oversees Guantánamo Bay, explained the motivation of the detainees at a Congressional hearing last month by saying, “They had great optimism that Guantánamo would be closed” based on President Obama’s pledge in his first campaign, but they are now “devastated” that nothing has changed.

For 86 detainees, this is a particular outrage. They were approved for release three years ago by a government task force, which included civilian and military agencies responsible for national security.

But Congress outrageously has limited the president’s options in releasing them, through a statute that makes it very difficult to use federal money to transfer Guantánamo prisoners anywhere. Fifty-six of those approved for release are Yemenis. The government, however, has said it will not release them to Yemen for the “foreseeable future,” apparently because they might fall under the influence of people antagonistic to the United States. That false logic would mean that no Yemenis could ever travel to this country, but that is not the case.

The other 30 detainees approved for release are from different countries, though the government will not say where they are from. Over the past decade, the government has sent detainees to at least 52 countries, The Times and NPR have determined, so it surely can find countries to take detainees who cannot be returned home.

As for the remaining 80 prisoners, the three who have been convicted and the 30 or so who are subjects of active cases or investigations can be transferred to a military or civilian prison. The rest are in indefinite detention — a legal limbo in which they are considered by the government to be too dangerous to release and too difficult to prosecute. Such detention is the essence of what has been wrong with Guantánamo from the start. The cases of these detainees must be reviewed and resolved according to the rule of law.

The government is force-feeding at least 10 of the hunger strikers. International agreements among doctors say doctors must respect a striker’s decision if he makes “an informed and voluntary refusal” to eat. But under American policy, Guantánamo doctors cannot adhere to those principles. The Obama administration justifies the force-feeding of detainees as protecting their safety and welfare. But the truly humane response to this crisis is to free prisoners who have been approved for release, end indefinite detention and close the prison at Guantánamo.

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Here is some more detail on what the strike is about from Rt.com:

"Official count in Guantanamo hunger strike rises to 41

Forty-one prisoners have now been classified as hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay, though none of them are in hospital, the prison’s spokesman said. Inmates maintain that the actual number is over three times higher.

Follow RT’s day-by-day timeline on Gitmo hunger strike

Navy Capt. Robert Durand said that the slight increase, up one from Thursday, takes into account all prisoners who have missed at least nine consecutive meals.

He added that two prisoners who had been hospitalized for dehydration have now been released, and eleven more are being force-fed to keep them from losing enough weight to endanger their lives.

The US military has continued to engage in the controversial process of forced feeding – an act the UN has compared to torture- despite opposition from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitoring the prisoners’ condition.

Despite the officially recognized figure, prisoners and their attorneys have long maintained that 130 out of the camps 166 detainees have already joined the hunger strike.

The hunger strike, which reportedly began around February 6, “was precipitated by widespread searches of detainees’ Qur’ans – perceived as religious desecration – as well as searches and confiscation of other personal items, including family letters and photographs, and legal mail, seemingly without provocation or cause,” Fifty-one attorneys wrote to defense secretary Chuck Hagel on March 14.

US authorities have summarily denied the prisoners’ claims.

On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Washington to close Guantanamo Bay in an uncharacteristically strong statement from the UN.

Pillay, who characterized the prison hunger strike as a “desperate” but "scarcely surprising” act, expressed her “deep disappointment” that the US government had not followed through on its four-year-old pledge to shut down Guantanamo Bay.

“We must be clear about this, the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold,” Pillay said in a statement.

She further condemned “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees,” saying it “amounts to arbitrary detention,” a violation of international law.

Of the 166 detainees, who hail from 23 different countries, only nine have been formally charged or convicted of a criminal offense."

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And this is a hunger strike to the death:

"Hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay spreads
By Peter Finn and Julie Tate, April 01, 2013

A hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has spread over the past two weeks, with the U.S. military saying the number of detainees participating in the protest has more than doubled and attorneys for the men insisting that the number is far higher.

The Pentagon said Monday that 39 men are consistently refusing food. Of those, 11 are being force fed — a process that can involve strapping the detainee down and passing a liquid nutritional supplement through a tube that is run from the nose into the stomach. Attorneys for the detainees, who visit the military detention center or speak to their clients by phone, said nearly the entire population of Camp 6 — where detainees can use common areas — is on hunger strike. Until recently, 130 detainees were kept in Camp 6, but it’s unclear how many remain. The lawyers said some of the protesters have been moved to the adjacent Camp 5 complex, which has been used to hold “non-compliant” detainees in greater isolation.

The military refuses to give specific numbers for the population of each camp. There are 166 detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Detainees have covered the cameras inside Camp 6, making it difficult for the guard force to monitor conditions and raising fears that the condition of some detainees could deteriorate unnoticed, according to the miliary and lawyers.

Attorneys for the detainees said the immediate catalyst for the protest, which began in early February, was a decision by the camp authorities to search the detainees’ Korans. The military acknowledges that Korans were searched for contraband, but said they were handled only by interpreters, most of whom are Muslim, not the guard force.

David Remes, a lawyer for some of the detainees, said that most of the hunger strikers would resume eating if the military agreed not to search Korans — as it had not done before February for a number of years. But he added that a number of men want to expand the strike to protest their indefinite detention and what they consider the Obama administration’s abandonment of its plans to close the facility.

"These men, including many of my clients, say they are determined to leave Guantanamo one way or the other — alive or . . . in a box,” Remes said.

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