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

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Guantanamo: Breaking the Hunger Strike? 

According to the New York Times today, the military has almost broken the hunger strike there:

United States military authorities have taken tougher measures to force-feed detainees engaged in hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after concluding that some were determined to commit suicide to protest their indefinite confinement, military officials have said.

In recent weeks, the officials said, guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into "restraint chairs," sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Detainees who refuse to eat have also been placed in isolation for extended periods to keep them from being pressured by other hunger strikers, the officials said.

The measures appear to have had drastic effects. The chief military spokesman at Guantánamo, Lt. Col. Jeremy M. Martin, said yesterday that the number of detainees on hunger strike had dropped, from 84 at the end of December to 4.

In the article, lawyers for the detainees relate a number of harrowing stories:

. . . Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, said one of his three Bahraini clients, Jum'ah al-Dossari, told him about 10 days ago that more than half of a group of 34 long-term hunger strikers had abandoned their protest after being strapped in restraint chairs and having their feeding tubes inserted and removed so violently that some bled or fainted.

"He said that during these force feedings too much food was given deliberately, which caused diarrhea and in some cases caused detainees to defecate on themselves," Mr. Colangelo-Bryan added. "Jum'ah understands that officers told the hunger strikers that if they challenged the United States, the United States would challenge them back using these tactics."

One must ask the disquieting question as to whether US troops at Guantanamo inflict such pain and humiliation upon detainees because of contempt for their Muslim beliefs. As former Army chaplain James Yee explained:

. . . in general, there was extreme anti-Muslim hostility throughout the base of Guantanamo, not only towards Muslim prisoners, but also towards U.S. Muslim personnel. And there were a number of things that I observed that indicated this. I came across emails, for example, that referred to Muslims as quote, “ragheads.” Requests for religious accommodation of Muslims, so that they could adhere to Islamic diet and have Halal meats -- Halal meats, meat that's properly slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines -- requests for Islamic diets for Muslim soldiers was denied by General Miller. Interesting, I was able to ensure that the Muslim prisoners had Halal diets, had Islamic diets, but I wasn't able to find support to support the Muslim soldiers for their Halal diets.

There were other things. One translator, a civilian translator, he ended up resigning from his position with Titan, the civilian company that provides -- that provided civilian translators when I was down there, resigned from his job because he was being routinely designed permission to attend the Friday service prayer, obligatory on Muslims on Friday afternoons. And that disturbed him to the extent that he would quit his job.

Of course, no one should be subjected to the abuse inflicted upon detainees at Guantanamo, but it is obligatory to observe that there is strong evidence that many of them, perhaps a majority, have no connection to al-Qaeda or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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