The pebbles in our shoes are not as debilitating as we deem. More often than not they force us to acknowledge stark realities and to persist in remaining honest and true. At a micro-level, this can be said about those who annoyingly seem an impediment to our success; at a macro level something as monumental as the ‘gulag’ of our times – the terror facility at Guantanamo Bay.
2013 marked eleven years since the Bush administration presented the terror facility within the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Most recent developments at the weekend report an outbreak of violence over ‘housing issues.’ Military guards at a communal camp fired four non-lethal rounds at detainees on Saturday, as they were forced into single cells in an apparent effort to stop a prolonged hunger strike. Currently, 43 detainees are on a hunger strike at the prison; 13 of them are being force-fed.
“A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tie my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly insert an IV. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During one force-feeding the tube was pushed about 18 inches into my stomach.”
The hunger strike has been ongoing since February, and was allegedly sparked by searches of the detainees’ cells and their Qurans. Detainees have also reported being abused by prison guards and punished for speaking out to their lawyers.
“This kind of authoritarian escalation is why we have a problem, not a solution. You cannot take people who are involved in a justified, non-violent protest against the fact that they have been cleared for years, yet remain in prison without justice, and respond by punishing them. That is not just unwise, it is immoral.” - Clive Stafford Smith
On April 11, activism groups including the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture, and World Can’t Wait organized a day of action to rally for the shut down of Guantanamo. The hunger strikes have catapulted Guantanamo into the headlines once more. Protests took place in cities ranging from Albany to New York to Chicago to San Francisco.
The illegalities of this facility, including its processes have been well documented by the legal fraternity and beyond. Up to now the Cuban camp emerges mostly as a ghastly experiment wherein terrorist suspects have become guinea pigs in unmentionable experiments of methods to crack the human soul. As long as the threat of terrorism remains, the facility remains.
Since January 2002, it is alleged that 779 men have been brought to Guantanamo. When the Center for Policy and Research at Seton Hall University Law School reviewed DOD data for 517 men in 2005, they established that over 80% of the prisoners were not captured by Americans on the battlefield, but by Pakistanis and Afghans in exchange for bounty payments as the US offered $5,000 per prisoner in the region. It is accepted that 166 prisoners remain at Guantanamo. According to former US president Jimmy Carter, about half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom.
“Two-thirds of the 86 prisoners cleared for release are Yemenis, but after a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US on Christmas Day 2009, with a bomb in his underwear, President Obama imposed a blanket ban on releasing any of the cleared Yemenis, which still stands to this day. “
Among the more notable commentary when Guantanamo reached its 11th anniversary was the voice of Jennifer Daskal - fellow and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center, and counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice:
“For a core group of detainees, closing Guantánamo is not the answer for now. It would not mean release or prosecution, as most human rights and civil liberties groups have long advocated. Rather, it would mean relocation to the United States, or elsewhere, for continued detention or secret detention. Guantánamo in 2013 is a far cry from Guantánamo in 2002. Thanks to the spotlight placed on the facility by human rights groups, international observers and detainees’ lawyers, there has been a significant, if not uniform, improvement in conditions.
If moved to the United States, these same men would most likely be held in military detention in conditions akin to supermax prisons — confined to their cells 22 hours a day and prohibited from engaging in group activities, including communal prayer.”
From an Islamic perspective causing serious harm to the body without a compelling reason is forbidden. Suicide is thus prohibited. The hunger strikes taken by our brothers are not to reach the point of death, but rather to raise awareness to their conditions, to save their lives or the lives of others. Ulema have mentioned that if the hunger striker falls short of harming himself then it falls under the permissible category in Islam. Ulema have also mentioned that those scholars, who are closer to the reality of each situation, have to pass a ruling for individual cases based on their specific circumstances. Wallahu A’lam
Back to pebble in the shoe analogy - the global political reality is that closure of Guantanamo is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The timely occurrence of the Boston Bombings once more makes the War on Terror seem necessary, giving the Obama administration reason and confidence to prolong these imprisonments. The shaft of light through such darkness is that Guantanamo, like Baghram and Abu Guraib and the assassination drones of the Obama administration exposes the American alliance for what it really is – a cancer eating away at democracy. That these facilities are exposed, and not underground, allow ordinary people insight to what goes on in the name of the ‘War on Terror’ and for us to find legal ways to end it.
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