Next May 17th will mark the 100th day more than 100 of Guantanamo’s 166 remaining prisoners will have refused food.
Their determined hunger strike may be generating global headlines but it has not moved President Obama to release this mainly Yemeni group of prisoners whose innocence is attested to by the fact that the U.S. has held them for years without ever bringing them to trial, much less charging them with a crime.
When a nation with 200 law schools and more than 1,100,000 lawyers can’t bring 166 prisoners to trial over a 10-year period, one begins to suspect the legal system is not only broken but that it may be meaningless as well.
According to the May 20th issue of The Nation, a liberal American magazine, “after the failed 2009 suicide attack by the so-called ‘underwear bomber,’ who trained in Yemen, the White House implemented a policy of caging its Yemeni detainees indefinitely. The fact that 56 are apparently innocent of any crime is of little concern…”
Several men have attempted suicide since the hunger strike began while another man has shriveled to as little as 77 pounds.
“As of today,” one prisoner wrote in a letter to the UK Guardian published last month, “I’ve spent more than 11 years in Guantanamo Bay…4,084 long days and nights. I’ve never been charged with any crime.”
Another prisoner, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, told his lawyer, “I will not eat until they restore my dignity.” Moqbel is quoted as saying, “I do not want to die here but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.”
For some of these uncharged, innocent prisoners, it is already too late. One man, Adnan Latif, was sent home to Yemen last year in a coffin after almost 11 years of incarceration, ostensibly after an overdose of pills.
The Nation’s editorial quotes Mr. Obama at his April 30th press conference telling reporters, “I don’t want these individuals to die” and claiming “the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can.”
Yet when the Pentagon has confined prisoners for a decade or longer without charging them, is force-feeding the “best” it can do? The Pentagon has also thrown some prisoners into solitary confinement, a form of torture. Has the president forgotten who is commander-in-chief? Indeed, Obama could pick up the phone and put an end to solitary and force-feeding of inmates. His response sounds as if he is more sympathetic to the Pentagon than he is responsive to the courage of the innocent hunger strikers who are risking death.
The Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR), a New York-based legal organization that fights for human rights, is calling on Mr. Obama to end his “self-imposed moratorium” on releasing Yemenis and to resume prison transfers. “The president must start living up to his rhetoric about closing the prison,” the CCR warns, or ‘the men who are on hunger strike will die, and he will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.”
In the history of Guantanamo, like the American prisons in the Middle East, given all the men arrested and imprisoned, literally only a handful ever have been charged with a crime or brought to trial. This should alert the world to the fact that the U.S. could never make a case against the overwhelming majority of them and that those rounded up were innocent and the “War on Terror” is a bogus war. The only aspect of the war that is real is that there is a dangerous terrorist nation on the loose, one that once believed in democracy—an ideal that was stuffed into a coffin with an innocent man and sent home to Yemen for burial.
Sherwood Ross, the author of “Gruening of Alaska” (Best Books) was formerly active in the civil rights movement and today is an anti-war publicist. Reach him at [email protected]