The U.S. military says 89 detainees at the facility, which houses some 460 enemy combatants captured on the battlefield, are starving -- possibly to death. Oh, but that’s not the abuse. After all, the hungry prisoners are actually starving themselves. They’re on a hunger strike.
The supposed abuse? American forces are feeding their prisoners, by force if necessary.
Such life-preserving measures are too much for some doctors. In March more than 250 medical professionals signed an open letter to the British medical journal The Lancet. “We urge the U.S. government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as force-feeding and restraint chairs are abandoned,” the doctors wrote. They insist that, if the prisoners want to starve themselves to death, they ought to be allowed to.
Many Americans would probably agree. Few would stand in the way of detained terrorists who want to kill themselves (without taking anyone else with them). Maybe we could even provide some tall buildings in case the prisoners want to jump off. Not one of these prisoners is incapacitated, as Terri Schiavo was. They’re all capable of taking action.
But that assumes these men are really trying to kill themselves. In fact they just seem to be attempting to get some press. “The hunger-strike technique is consistent with al Qaeda practice,” Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand told reporters, “and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention to bring international pressure on the United States to release them back to the battlefield.”
The prisoners’ ploy is certainly falling on fertile ground. Plenty of international organizations want these men released.
Amnesty International insists Guantanamo Bay “must be closed down” in part because many “detainees allege they have been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Torture -- which in this case involves being fed.
Human Rights Watch is even more direct. “Any detainees implicated in criminal acts can and should be charged now. The rest should be released,” Joanne Mariner, the group’s terrorism and counterterrorism program director, wrote last month.
Of course, most of the Guantanamo detainees were captured on the battlefield. They’re not criminals -- they’re prisoners of war. We’re not looking to “book them,” we simply need to detain them so they can’t go back to the battlefield and kill Americans.
And the number of people we’ve actually held is pretty small. Last month the military announced that only 759 people have spent time at Gitmo. Hundreds have already been freed and an additional 136 detainees will be released or transferred as soon as their home countries agree to accept and treat them humanely, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.
Meanwhile, far from being a hell hole, Gitmo is a model of a humane prison. Detainees eat (if they want to) three balanced meals a day. Each detainee gets a Koran (in his home language) and a surgical mask to store it in (so “infidels” won’t defile it by touching it). There’s a call to prayer five times a day, and guards are instructed to remain quiet during prayers. Two thirds of detainees have a prayer rug, perfume oil and prayer beads. Sounds posh enough as prisons go.
Still, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights claims prisoners have been tortured, even though nobody from the commission actually visited Gitmo to look around. Former military officer Dana Dillon did. And he’s not alone.
“More than 1,000 journalists have visited Gitmo, plus 11 senators, 77 congressmen, 99 congressional staffers, and, of course, lawyers for the detainees,” Dillon wrote last year. “The prisoners there were treated humanely and justly, living in conditions that meet -- indeed, far exceed -- Geneva Convention standards for prisoner treatment.”
As at any prison, there can be violence. Some detainees clashed with guards last month after two had attempted to kill themselves by overdosing on anti-depressant drugs they collected from other prisoners. There’s an example of abuse, American-military style: We give prisoners Prozac so they won’t be depressed.
The American way of war is unique. We do what we need to do to defeat our enemies, but we also bend over backward to prevent unnecessary deaths. The fine folks at the international pressure groups that love to criticize the U.S. can only hope if they’re ever detained it’s by our military, and not by the head-hackers who are our enemies in this Long War.