As a fourth generation shrimper and an environmental activist on the Texas gulf coast, I have gone on hunger fasts to protect the seas that my community of fishermen depend upon. I know how far I would go to be heard. To have a voice. To push for justice. So I can vouch for the experts who say that the 100+ hunger strikes happening now in Guantanamo prison reflect the level of desperation and despair felt by the prisoners there. The detainees are screaming for justice from the outside world. And now they are being heard.
Here is one despairing voice:
Adnan Latif spent 10 years in Guantanamo without being charged. He was a poet, father and a husband and had been cleared for release four times. Yet he continued to be imprisoned. He was found dead in his cell, one of 9 men who have died at Guantanamo. In his own words, Latif asked, “Where is the world to save us from torture? Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness? Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?”
My question is a lot more personal: Where are we, citizens of America?
This is a US detention and interrogation center. A prison, by all counts. Many have called it a gulag, a shame, a scandal, and they wouldn’t be wrong. The vast majority of the 166 men still trapped at Guantánamo have been held for more than 11 years without charge or fair trial. Eighty-six Guantanamo prisoners were cleared for release more than three years ago. The Navy, Army, and Marines have no reason to press charges.
Currently, more than 100 detainees are on a hunger strike, with 21 being force-fed and 5 hospitalized. The forced tube feeding, according to prisoners who have experienced it, is itself an act of torture and very debilitating. A medical back-up team of at least 40 has arrived at Guantanamo Bay as the number of inmates taking part in the hunger strike continues to rise, fueling speculation that the condition of the hunger-striking prisoners is deteriorating.
If the chains of good ol’ American indifference continue, hard and unabated, as they have currently been, then the men of Guantanamo Bay might remain there until hell freezes over.
Where are you, Mr. President?
When President Obama took office in 2009, he vowed to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. It’s 2013 and the prison still stands, prisoners remain — but in solitary confinement, ostensibly to reduce camaraderie and hopefully those hunger strikes! Some consider Guantanamo President Obama’s Shame. However, according to President Obama’s speech on Tuesday, he wasn’t a bit surprised they were having problems. Obama called Guantanamo unsafe and expensive to the US taxpayers and said it lessens cooperation with US allies. He said he would really like to shut it down and he is going to work on it!
Okay, President Obama, the time to talk and ruminate is over with. Now is the time for action. And what can you do? Well, pardon a back woods shrimper from the gulf coast for saying this: Congress may have imposed unprecedented restriction on detainee transfers, but you, Mr. President, still have the power to transfer men right now. You can and should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees.
According to the ACLU, there are two essential steps the president can take. One is to appoint a senior point person so that the administration's Guantanamo closure policy is directed by the White House and not by Pentagon bureaucrats. The president can also order the secretary of defense to start certifying for transfer detainees who have been cleared, which is more than half the Guantanamo population.
You, President Obama, must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo, or the men who are on hunger strikes will die, and you will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.
Where are you, Congress?
Well, Congress, you must not sleep well at night. And contrary to what you believe or what you might believe the American people believe, you can not incarcerate forever a group of people who have not been tried. Sticking them in Cuba will not hide the fact, either. Just as the infamous prison in Northern Ireland where men such as Bobby Sands conducted hunger strikes, died, and stained forever Britain's human rights record, so Guantánamo stains America.
And where am I? Well, I know where this one American is. I stand in solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners on their hunger strike and I have been, and will continue to, fast indefinitely until justice comes. Shut Guantanamo down!
Diane Wilson is a fourth-generation shrimper, environmental activists, and peace advocate from the Texas Gulf Coast.