The recurring Guantanamo nightmare
I wish this was an April Fool's joke, but it isn't:
There are a hundred and sixty-six prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Military officials told reporters earlier this week that thirty-one—almost one in five—were engaged in a hunger strike. By Friday, the number was thirty-seven, or closer to one in four. Eighty-six—more than one in two—have been cleared for release, meaning that the government doesn’t think that it has a case against them or even that they pose a threat, but it is keeping them locked up anyway, and has no imminent plans to let them go. Only six of the prisomers—just about one in twenty-eight—are facing trial. That means that there are six times as many prisoners on hunger strikes as there are those who have actual charges lodged against them.
Why a hunger strike? Those fractions—one in four, one in two, one in twenty-eight—are, by all accounts, related. The strikers have some specific complaints—like about searches of Korans—but there is no doubt that people are refusing to eat because of frustration about this story having no end at all. Many of the hunger-strikers had been the most compliant prisoners, the ones who got to go to art classes and live in group settings, not the most recalcitrant. Rosenberg, on a recent trip, saw the guards throwing out lunch after lunch that the prisoners in communal cellblocks had refused.
Six and eighty-six, as bad as those numbers are, do not account for the full roster of prisoners. There are dozens more whom the Administration has decided to just hold, even though it does not have enough evidence to charge them, supposedly on the grounds that they seem scary. Because of their pasts, or because of the embarrassment that the story of their time at Guantánamo might cause? Without a trial, who can say?
Apparently, Gitmo is currentlybeing run by one of those General Geoffrey Miller types who is cracking down, thus bringing the prisoners understandable frustration to the boiling point. Also too: indefinite detention and the Monte Cristo effect.
President Obama may not be able to close Guantanamo and maybe the congress had tied his hands and made it impossible for him to release certain prisoners. Very Serious People tell us endlessly that the president of the United States is mostly a ceremonial position that has no power to do much of anything, but there is no reason in the world that the administration cannot make it a priority to at least treat the prisoners who have been determined to be innocent of any wrongdoing with humanity, generosity and decency. Why are they subject to punitive measures by prisoner officials at all? Making Guantanamo comfortable wouldn't make up for the fact that they are being wrongfully imprisoned, nothing will. But it's honestly the least we can do.
The Commander in Chief of the armed forces can do something about this and he must. It's completely unacceptable.