The president and the hunger strike
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
President Barack Obama said a lot of important things Tuesday about the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is a blight on the nation’s reputation. It mocks U.S. standards of justice by keeping people imprisoned without charges. It has actually hindered the prosecution and imprisonment of dangerous terrorists.
Even if Guantanamo seemed justified to some people in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, those justifications are wearing thin. It is unsustainable and should be closed.
We were pleased that Obama pledged to make good, finally, on his promise to do just that. But that reaction was tempered by the fact that he has failed to do so for five years and that he has not taken steps within his executive power to transfer prisoners long ago cleared for release. Obama’s plans to try to talk Congress into removing obstacles to closing the prison do not reflect the urgency of the crisis facing him now.
As of Tuesday morning, Charlie Savage reported in The Times, 100 of the 166 inmates at Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike against their conditions and indefinite detention. Twenty-one have been “approved” for force-feeding, which involves the insertion of a tube through their nostrils and down their throats.
Obama defended the practice.
“I don’t want these individuals to die,” he said.
Most people don’t. But a recently published bipartisan report on detainee treatment by the Constitution Project said “forced feeding of detainees is a form of abuse and must end.”
The World Medical Association has long considered forced feeding a violation of a physicians’ ethics when it is done against a competent person’s express wishes, a point that was reinforced April 25 by Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
There is no indication that the inmates being force-fed were unconscious or incapable of making decisions. And virtually all inmates at Guantanamo have never been charged with any crime and never will be. Nearly 90 have been cleared for release, and another large group can never be tried because they were tortured or there is no evidence they were involved in a particular attack. Only six are facing active charges before a military tribunal.
Obama was asked about the hunger strike at a White House news conference.
“I think it is critical,” he said, “for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists.”
Obama said permanent detention without trial “is contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests.”