GUANTANAMO BAY, Nov. 1—At least two detainees at the holding facility here skipped lunch today because they’re on a hunger strike. Which is a pity for them -- the food was delicious.
By contrast, the steady stream of news about “Gitmo” tends to leave one with a bad taste.
On the day I toured the facility, lawyers for 100 detainees were in court insisting their clients have a right to be heard in American civilian courts. And a recent McClatchy newspaper story claimed that “reports of mistreatment and torture have dogged the facility since it opened,” and added, “critics … have described an island gulag of desolation and despair.”
What missing from the criticism is any sense of perspective. For one thing, the most outspoken critics of American policy haven’t bothered to visit Guantanamo. If they did, they’d see that the U.S. military is using the facility to hold roughly 400 enemy combatants. And despite all the criticism, Gitmo’s the most transparent facility ever used to house prisoners of war.
Most of the detainees have lawyers. That must be a first in the history of warfare. No government is required under the laws of war to charge enemy combatants with any crime; anyone picked up on a battlefield may be held until hostilities end.
Furthermore, the Geneva Convention does not require that detainees be allowed to speak to lawyers and does not give them the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. By any measure, the U.S. government has extended our deadly enemies unprecedented legal rights.
In return, we’re collecting valuable intelligence. Many detainees are still giving us useful information about the location of al Qaeda training facilities and the terrorist organization’s chain of command.
As far as alleged torture goes, consider the hunger-strikers mentioned above. To keep them alive, the military has been tube-feeding them the same way a hospital feeds an incapacitated patient. “Medical associations have called it unethical,” Reuters news agency reports. Would letting the detainees die be more ethical? Doctors at Gitmo even adjusted the detainees’ feeding schedule so that, during Ramadan, they wouldn’t be getting any sustenance during daylight hours. We’re not only protecting the lives of detainees, we’re respecting their religious traditions as well.
In fact, if there’s any abuse going on, it might be that the detainees are eating too much. They get some 4,000 calories a day -- hardly a starvation diet. Guards say one has gained 150 pounds.