Closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay was a repeated rallying cry for the left under President George W. Bush. Though President Obama pledged to see it done within his first year in office — and several more times after that — the issue seems to have faded from the public eye now that he’s beginning his fifth year as president.
But recently, as roughly 43 of the 166 detainees continue their over two-month hunger strike against what they consider to be unjust treatment, the facility has made its way back into the news.
On Monday, the New York Times published a first-person account of one such prisoner.
The article begins:
ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.
I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.
I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.
I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either. [Emphasis added]
The inmate, identified as Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, told his story to his lawyers in an unclassified telephone call through an Arabic interpreter.
He proceeds to explain how he thought he could make more money in Afghanistan than his native Yemen, but fled to Pakistan after the American invasion in 2001. When he asked to speak with someone at the Yemeni Embassy, he says he was “sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.” (The reader will note that, though the inmate describes his conditions at Guantanamo with detail, the cause of his arrest is extremely vague).
The article continues, describing the apparently “cruel punishment” of being fed:
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.
[One time] It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity. [Emphasis added]
The inmate concludes by asking where his government and President Obama are on the issue, saying he risks dying “every day” until they act.
“I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late,” he concludes.
The article is already causing a stir in the national media. The left-leaning Daily Kos commented: “This is the 21st century version of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. It is truly shameful that this facility is still in operation…Hopefully this will reignite the conversation as to why we need to close Guantanamo Bay.”
What do you think of the situation? Should Obama close Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible? Did the inmate’s account of his “cruel” treatment affect your perception of the issue, or bring it back to the forefront? What should be done with the prisoners?
Let us know what you think in the comments section, and take our poll, below.