Guantanamo detainees are still starving themselves, and are still being force-fed. By the military’s latest count, 97 prisoners are on hunger strike, though lawyers say even more have joined the protest. And the convergence of the ongoing protest and the opening of the Bush presidential library has led to a strong New York Times editorial that’s important to highlight.
The editorial strongly denounces the “stain” that Guantanamo represents on the American human rights record. It unequivocally states that the legal mess of indefinite detention is a major legacy of the Bush administration. And the editorial also points out that the Obama administration has failed to close the prison. Here’s an excerpt:
There is another building, far from Dallas on land leased from Cuba, that symbolizes Mr. Bush’s legacy in a darker, truer way: the military penal complex at Guantánamo Bay where Mr. Bush imprisoned hundreds of men after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a vast majority guilty of no crime.
It became the embodiment of his dangerous expansion of executive power and the lawless detentions, secret prisons and torture that went along with them. It is now also a reminder of Mr. Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised when he took office, and of the malicious interference by Congress in any effort to justly try and punish the Guantánamo inmates...
Whatever Mr. Bush says about how comfortable he is with his “tough” choices, the country must recognize the steep price being paid for what is essentially a political prison. Just as hunger strikes at the infamous Maze Prison in Northern Ireland indelibly stained Britain’s human rights record, so Guantánamo stains America’s.
The Times editorial is the most prominent media effort to shine the light on Guantanamo, a welcome intervention after the issue of indefinite detention had largely fallen off the map. There’s also another, less prominent though still important article to pay attention to concerning the prison camp.
Today, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf published a piece highlighting what is one of the most shocking aspects of Guantanamo: that the Bush administration knew many of the men imprisoned there were absolutely innocent. “Holding prisoners even after their innocence is known, as President Obama and the present Congress are doing even today, is a moral abomination,” writes Friedersdorf. The Atlantic writer linked to this important piece by Truthout investigative reporter Jason Leopold, who had first revealed that a former U.S. official said he was willing to testify to the Bush administration’s knowledge of prisoners’ innocence. Here’s a part of Leopold’s report:
In a sworn declaration obtained exclusively by Truthout, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell during George W. Bush's first term in office, said Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld knew the "vast majority" of prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror were innocent and the administration refused to set them free once those facts were established because of the political repercussions that would have ensued.
"By late August 2002, I found that of the initial 742 detainees that had arrived at Guantánamo, the majority of them had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review," Wilkerson's declaration says. "Secretary Powell was also trying to bring pressure to bear regarding a number of specific detentions because children as young as 12 and 13 and elderly as old as 92 or 93 had been shipped to Guantánamo. By that time, I also understood that the deliberate choice to send detainees to Guantánamo was an attempt to place them outside the jurisdiction of the US legal system."
For more on the Guantanamo hunger strike, check out my piece in AlterNet, "Beatings, Attempted Suicides and Deliberate Starvation: The Dystopic Hell of Guantanamo Bay."