President Obama has continually promised to close Guantanamo Bay, spewing carefully crafted rhetoric but failing to follow through. In 2009, the president signed an executive order to close the facility in order to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.” Yet here we are, three years later, with a prison full of detainees being treated like sub-humans.
Sunday, the New York Times published a letter from a detainee describing the purgatory that is Guantanamo Bay. Here is just one brief description from the letter:
“There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
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. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.”
I understand the need for a prison for supposed terrorists, however Guantanamo Bay is neither just nor constitutional. When this letter was written, the detainee, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, had been held for 11 years and 3 months without trial. I do believe in the notion that criminals and terrorists, in the choice to commit acts of violence against other humans, lose certain rights, however this is a complete violation of basic human rights. Being held in prison without due process in Guantanamo takes away the human right to control over one’s body, arguably one of the most important human rights.
In this way, the detainee hunger strikes mark an attempt to regain this control. Denying themselves of food in Guantanamo is the only way to maintain control over the body. However, such an act is not even allowed in Guantanamo because the detainees on hunger strikes are frequently force fed.
As the greatest nation in the world, we should do better. Everyone deserves rights, especially if they have not been charged with any crime.