More than 210 prisoners have been on hunger strike, protesting their indefinite detention. Credit: Creative Commons/Publik15.

Wonder of wonders, President Obama has publicly acknowledged that there are over 100 desperate men starving themselves to death in the Guantánamo detention facility — rather than endure the misery of torture and indefinite imprisonment without trial.

In my most recent post on Tikkun Daily, I’d made an effort publicly to support the hunger strikers in their heroic action, but I figured the Obama administration would ignore the desperation and courage of the Guantánamo prisoners.

Obama didn’t bring up the subject himself — unless his press conference was staged, and he expected the CBS reporter to question him about the crisis in the Guantánamo facility. But given his voluble response, with all his stock phrases and excuses neatly in place, one might suspect he knew the question was coming.

The CBS reporter even took the trouble to frame the question from the viewpoint of humanitarian concerns, saying, “Is it any surprise really that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?”

The reporter might have editorialized a bit further and said, “That’s to say nothing, of course, about the fact that their detention without trial is entirely unconstitutional and entirely contrary to U.S. ideas of freedom, democracy and justice.”

Did Mr. Obama mention the despair and misery of the men detained and striking in Guantánamo, in any part of his response? Was there any sort of real feeling of horror at what’s happening there, in his words? No.

Did he mention that the facility’s policy and programs of torture and secrecy are cruel, immoral, and illegal from the point of view of international law as well? No.

Did he give us the usual pat phrases like “Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” and “It is expensive,” and “It is inefficient”? Oh yes.

Yes. Let’s make sure that when we torture, insult, violate, and confine innocent people, we do it efficiently. No muss, no fuss, no bother.

In any case, even though Obama took small pains to assure us all that he wants to close the Guantánamo facility, the truth is that in January 2013 the Obama administration closed the office in the U.S. State Department in which officials were working to repatriate or resettle the great majority of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners — almost all of whom have been found innocent of any wrongdoing.

The truth is that according to the executive options in the National Defense Authorization Act, Obama could have initiated the release of the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo years ago. He could have ordered the Secretary of Defense “in concurrence with the Secretary of State and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, to certify detainee transfers and issue national security waivers.”

In fact Obama issued a moratorium on releasing Yemeni prisoners. Ninety of the 166 remaining prisoners in Guantánamo are Yemeni.

The Yemeni government has demanded the Yemeni prisoners be returned to Yemen. Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, president of Yemen, has stated, “We believe that keeping someone in prison for over 10 years without due process is clear-cut tyranny.”

Yes, Mr. Mansour Hadi, once upon a time Americans also believed that, and wrote that belief right into the US Constitution. How about that!

Someone else has contributed eloquently to the public discussion of this issue. Former U.S. soldier Brandon Neely worked as a guard at Guantánamo for 6 months in 2002. He has become a spokesperson for shutting down the prison.

In a recent interview with CBC TV in Canada, Brandon described the many things he saw at Guantánamo that drove him to call for its closure. He talked of unsafe living conditions, outside cages, of seeing guards “beat some of these detainees to a bloody pulp…”

In spite of the risks he faces in speaking out publicly about Guantánamo, Brandon urges others to speak out. He lauds the striking prisoners for their bravery and says, “Now it’s time for the people to put the pressure back on the government. We talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.”

Can you hear that, Mr. Obama? Do you care enough about this glaring moral crisis, this deeply rooted American problem, to move forcefully to do what you promised to do in 2009?

Walk the walk. Close Guantánamo. Repatriate and rehabilitate those destroyed by it.


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