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Congress Turns a Blind Eye to the Deep Shame of Guantanamo Bay

An emerging humanitarian crisis sparked by a mass hunger strike is drawing only scant attention.
 
 
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Guantanamo Prison Flight
Photo Credit: Publik15/Flickr

 
 
 
 

There have been nine congressional hearings on the Benghazi controversy – with more to come – but almost no one in Congress dares put the spotlight on the unfolding scandal surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison where most of the remaining 166 inmates have opted to “escape” from indefinite detention via the only way open to them – starving themselves to death.

One exception to the congressional cowardice is Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, who sponsored a highly instructive panel discussion on the prison at Guantanamo last Friday. Why simply a “briefing,” rather than a formal House hearing? Simple. Not one of the majority Republicans who currently chair committees in the House and have the power to call hearings wants Americans to hear the details of this blight on the nation’s conscience.

To be completely fair, the reigning reluctance seems, actually, to be a bipartisan affair. Moran is one of the few Democrats possessed of a conscience and enough moral courage to let the American people know what is being done in their name. For other lawmakers, it is a mite too risky.

Folksy folks like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee which is supposed to exercise oversight of the lethal operations carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, make no bones about the dilemma they prefer to duck when it comes to letting detainees die at Guantanamo or letting the president blow up suspected terrorists via drone strikes.

Here’s Graham  quoted in Esquire magazine last summer on why Congress has engaged in so little oversight of the lethal drone program: “Who wants to be the congressman or senator holding the hearing as to whether the president should be aggressively going after terrorists? Nobody. And that’s why Congress has been AWOL in this whole area.” The same thinking applies to showing any mercy for the people held at Guantanamo.

It seems to me that Guantanamo is a three-fold scandal: (1) the abomination of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment given those prisoners; (2) the reality that most of those remaining were cleared for release more than three years ago; and (3) the fact that Moran’s was the very first congressionally sponsored public “briefing” of its kind – more than 11 years late.

While there has been endless attention paid to how the Benghazi talking points were drafted for use on Sunday talk shows last September, the American people have been spared high-profile testimony about how 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantanamo were cleared for release more than three years ago following a year-long investigation of their cases by an interagency  task force of officials at the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security.

How might Americans feel if they knew that most of these 86 are now on a prolonged hunger strike and that many are being force-fed against their will, a notoriously painful, degrading and even illegal practice. Two weeks ago,  40 additional military medical personnel were sent to Guantanamo to assist with the force-feedings.

The American Medical Association has condemned such force-feedings as a violation of “core ethical values of the medical profession.” The United Nations has condemned the practice as torture and a breach of international law.

Concerned Citizens

Friday’s unusual “briefing” sprang from an initiative by a group of concerned citizens mostly from Moran’s district in northern Virginia. On April 30, Kristine Huskey led a small group of us to meet with Moran, one of the very few members of Congress to speak out against the obscenity called Guantanamo. We put our shoulders to the wheel (and enlisted the willing shoulders of many other pro-justice people) and brought about the briefing in nine days.

 
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