'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, March 03, 2006

Guantanamo: First Person Account 

Yet another disturbing account of what actually transpires at Guantanamo, from taped responses to questions submitted to a detainee, Fawzi al-Odah, broadcast and published by BBC World News. Note the significance of the use of the restraint chair, as discussed here recently, in these excerpts:

Fawzi al-Odah said hunger strikers were strapped to a chair and force-fed through a tube three times a day.

The BBC Today programme's Jon Manel submitted questions for Mr Odah to his lawyer, Tom Wilner, who has access to the camp.

There was no opportunity for the BBC to challenge Mr Odah's responses.

Mr Odah, who has been held at the base since 2002, was one of 84 inmates at Guantanamo who went on hunger strike in December. Just four are still refusing food. Through his lawyer, Mr Odah described his treatment during his hunger strike.

"First they took my comfort items away from me. You know, my blanket, my towel, my long pants, then my shoes. I was put in isolation for 10 days.

"They came in and read out an order. It said if you refuse to eat, we will put you on the chair [for force feeding]."

He told how detainees were given "formulas" to force them to empty their bowels and were strapped to a metal chair three times a day, where a tube was inserted to administer food.

"One guy, a Saudi, told me that he had once been tortured in Saudi Arabia and that this metal chair treatment was worse than any torture he had ever endured or could imagine," Mr Odah said.

Mr Odah told the BBC that he felt like an old man despite being only 29. He described a regime where young military guards routinely beat detainees who caused problems.

"If anything bad happens to the United States anywhere in the world, they immediately react to us and treat us badly, like animals," he said.

"I'm always tired. I have pain in my kidneys. I have trouble breathing. I have pain in my heart and am short of breath. I have trouble urinating and having bowel movements. "Death in this situation is better than being alive and staying here without hope," Mr Odah added.

The US has said it is holding Mr Odah because he is a dangerous "enemy combatant", who travelled through Afghanistan with the Taleban, fired AK-47 rifles while at an al-Qaeda training camp and fought against US and coalition forces.

He dismissed the general allegations, branding them as "rubbish" and "absolutely untrue".

Such conduct by US forces at Guantamano certainly serves the purposes of irrational vengence, gratification of sadism and intimidation of Muslims, but the connection of these practices to the "war on terror" is hard to discern, unless one concludes it is being prosecuted to achieve similar goals. The refusal to close Guantanamo, as urged by many around the world, including the authors of a UN human rights report, raises some profound moral questions.

First, to what extent would Cuba, where Guantanamo is located, or any group of affiliated nations, or even a group of armed militants, be justified in using force to shut down Guantanamo? Given the lack of recourse to any political or legal process that presents the prospect of stopping the abuse of detainees there, what is the alternative? Are there non-violent possibilties for confronting the atrocity of Guantanamo, and, if so, what are they?

Similarly, what should we think of people who voluntarily enter the US military and serve there? Should we explain it by reference to the social pressures that might induce someone to enlist and accept deployment to Guantanamo? Or should we should insist upon the application of principles of personal responsibility for one's actions?

I have already addressed the subject of personal responsibility in the context of military service to perpetuate the occupation of Iraq, but willing participation in the operation of Guantanamo places it in even sharper relief. Especially when you consider that it is the government's public position that there is no prohibition against the use of torture at Guantanamo.

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