There is a 35-year-old man who has been held prisoner by the United States for 11 years. His defense at trial? He was never tried. The charge filed against him? None. He has never been charged, either. The threat he poses to the United States? He isn't thought to pose any. His scheduled date of release? There isn't one. Despite all the rest, he is to be held indefinitely.
This despite the fact that he has been cleared for release!
He is attempting a hunger strike to protest his detention. It began when he was sick in the prison hospital and refused food. "A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in," he stated. "They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary." Here's how life has been going for him since: "Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding."
What's it like to be force fed?
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can't describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn't. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
The description is uncomfortably reminiscent of how people describe waterboarding*. He continued:
I am still being force-fed.
Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I'm sleeping... During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not. It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me.
All that is from "Hunger Striking at Guantanamo Bay," one of the most bracing op-eds ever published in the New York Times. It must've been an especially bracing read for one man in particular. Said the prisoner, "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 (read about the initial allegations against him, which he denies, here) is just the latest observer to point out that, along with the Bush Administration officials who opened Gitmo, the members of Congress hellbent on keeping it open, and the many Americans who concur, Obama bears responsibility for this injustice.
He is doing a historic wrong.
Glenn Greenwald details his particular role in Gitmo, and the way that some of his supporters obscure it. "The people in the faction who spent years denouncing it as a Great Evil now instead rush to exonerate President Obama for any responsibility or blame," he writes. "They insist that the fault rests with Congress for preventing Obama from fulfilling his pledge." He goes on:
This claim, though grounded in some truth, is misleading in the extreme .... Obama sought not to close Guantánamo but simply to re-locate it to Illinois, and in doing so, to preserve what makes it such a travesty of justice: its system of indefinite detention. The detainees there are not protesting in desperation because of their geographical location: we want to be in Illinois rather than a Cuban island. They are sacrificing their health and their lives in response to being locked in a cage for more than a decade without charges: a system Obama, independent of what Congress did, intended to preserve. Obama's task force in early 2010 decreed that "48 detainees were determined to be too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution" and will thus "remain in detention": i.e. indefinitely imprisoned with no charges. Given these facts, one cannot denounce the disgrace of Guantánamo's indefinite detention system while pretending that Obama sought to end it, at least not cogently or honestly.
But Obama's responsibility for the Guantánamo disgrace extends beyond that. Moqbel, the author of this Op-Ed, is Yemeni. More than half of the remaining 166 detainees at the camp are Yemeni. Dozens of those Yemenis (along with dozens of other detainees) have long ago been cleared for release by the US government on the ground that there is no evidence to believe they are a threat to anyone. A total of 87 of the remaining detainees -- roughly half -- have been cleared for release, of which 58 are Yemeni. Not even the US government at this point claims they are guilty or pose a threat to anyone. The Yemeni government not only is willing to take them, but is now demanding their release .... But Obama announced a moratorium on the release of any Yemeni detainees, even ones cleared for release.
The United States now has three options with respect to the prisoners who are cleared for release and engaged in a hunger strike. Is the most moral, prudent course of action to release them, to let them starve to death, or to force a feeding tube down their throats twice a day, indefinitely?
Obama has not chosen the moral option.
* "Please, torture me the old way," another prisoner once pleaded.