America must be better than Guantanamo

A Guantanamo detainee’s feet are shown in this April 27, 2010 file photo. (POOL/REUTERS ) Diane Randall is the executive … Continued

A Guantanamo detainee’s feet are shown in this April 27, 2010 file photo. (POOL/REUTERS )

Diane Randall is the executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a 70-year-old Quaker lobby in the public interest.

If President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress want to act immediately to bolster the flagging faith among the international community and among much-needed allies in the Arab World, there is one policy lever that could help: Guantanamo Bay.

Speaking as the head of a Quaker faith lobby in Washington DC, and as someone who just returned, this month, from the protested and politically active streets of Istanbul, I can attest to the urgency of this moment.

From Istanbul to Sana’a, from Beirut to Baghdad, and from Cairo to Kabul, the protests are becoming more common, calls for reform more frequent, and disregard for America’s role in the region more apparent.

Whatever moral authority America once commanded continues to wither as we violate our country’s cherished values of human rights and the rule of law with the continued operation of Guantanamo.

There, at Guantanamo, 166 detainees live in captivity; over 80 of those men have been on a hunger strike, many being force-fed against their will. Over half of the total detainees have been cleared of charges and await release. The world watches our government’s inaction to address this injustice.

Additionally, and in violation of international law prohibitions against “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” several dozen inmates who remain on hunger strike are being force fed. After being physically immobilized, a two-foot long nasal tube is lodged into their bodies. The process ruptures the protective lining of their throats and stomachs and ruptures any sense of dignity, causing injury to body and soul.

The harm to these detainees is awful in the very action, but the fact that America — which considers itself the standard bearer for freedom and justice — is allowing this wound to fester harms our nation’s effectiveness with nations around the globe.

This Pentagon malpractice is fueling, quite fast and furiously, anti-American sentiment abroad. And while Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) have called for the Pentagon to end force feedings and implement the same prisoner protections currently in place at federal prisons, the world isn’t seeing the nuance among America’s leadership.

Beyond the absolute illegality and the severe human rights implications here, the message America is sending to leaders in Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya is one that encourages the contravening of the rule of law, criminal justice, and due process in a court.

This is hardly the message we want to send to leaders who may be keen to excuse a similar flouting of democratic governance and principles in their countries. This is especially poignant for a president who made a campaign promise to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

If America cannot keep its promises, how can we expect others, such as Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, or Iraq’s Nur al-Maliki, to keep theirs?

Despite President Obama’s recent re-focus on Guantanamo, which has garnered little in terms of a new tack, it is up to Congress to legally lift the restrictions on moving detainees to prisons in the U.S. or to foreign countries. While Obama could veto any forthcoming National Defense Authorization Act, if it includes those restrictions, that move is highly unlikely since Guantanamo is such a small portion of the defense-funding bill.

The real task, then, lies in the moral argument that must be made by our leaders and by the American people. We live in a country that believes in the rule of law. Yet, in practice, we are operating in direct, deplorable contradiction with this ethos through our continued and indefinite detention and treatment of persons who have not been charged and should have been released years ago from Guantanamo Bay.

As U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler reminded us, last week, that she has no jurisdiction to end the force-feeding of a Guantanamo inmate held for 11 years despite but cleared for release in 2010, we need to make the moral imperative for overriding this injustice.

As people of faith, Quakers and many others believe there is that of God in everyone, which leads us to raise the moral imperative for dignity and justice. As citizens of a country established on the principles of liberty and justice, we call on our Congress to stand for the principles of our American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Our country will be better for closing Guantanamo.

The time is now for America to stand for justice, for human dignity, for morality.

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  • Csmith25

    As a Post 9/11 veteran, I am completely against allowing these people to come to the US. They are not citizens and shouldn’t be allowed to have the rights of a US citizen. They were detained and sent to Guantanamo for a reason. They were either involved in terrorist activities or had information of those involved. When they declared a holy war on the American people as citizens not belonging to a foreign military force, Geneva Conventions wouldn’t have applied either because they are technically not an enemy combatant. So the question remains, what do you do with them? In my opinion, who cares? I certainly could care less.

  • americasidealsaredead

    My post gets deleted but his stays!? We live in America, a country founded on an ideal that people could escape hardship from anywhere in the world to come and be free members of a productive society. In addition, he is saying that even though most of the prisoners have been cleared for release, since they have commited no crime, we should still “care less” about “them.”

  • americasidealsaredead

    So, back to my first post which was originally deleted, ex-vets like you make me unsupportive of most veterans in general. Not all vets, but any who share your closeminded and selfish views. If guantanimo was in Afghanistan for American soldiers would you still “care less?”

  • lissin2this

    I thought the world was going to love us once OBAMA got elected

  • Joel Hardman

    Please don’t think Csmith25 speaks for all vets.

    I don’t understand how any system of morality could justify indefinite detention without fair criminal or military trials. To Csmith25’s point, if the people in Guantanamo aren’t enemy soldiers, then they are criminals. We can’t make up a third category of people who are afforded the rights of neither soldiers or criminals.

    It’s sad to me that many Americans are willing to sacrifice human rights out of fear. What is even more sad is how easily it happened. The attacks on 9/11 were terrible, but terrorism isn’t now and never has been an existential threat to America.

  • gladerunner

    “ex-vets like you make me unsupportive of most veterans in general. ”

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but why would you clump other vets together, of any number, for opinions about things?
    There is a full range of diversity in the opinions of vets. Liberals, conservatives, thinkers, idiots, libertarians, hawks and doves, etc.
    Anyone with a true open mind would not presume that because one veteran, or ten thousand veterans are of equal mind on any subject, that it is an indicator of ANY OTHER individual veteran.
    As with all people so easily lumped together in ‘groups’, it is a closed mind that thinks an individual thinks or behaves a certain way simply because others in those ‘groups’ do.

    Frankly, I’m not sure why Csmith25 thinks that his being a veteran gives him any particular enhanced validity for his opinion on this subject. (or pretty much any other)
    I’m a vet too, pre-9/11 (for whatever that’s worth, I’m not quite sure.)
    All I know is this, we are holding people in hard custody without trial. In many of these cases, without even a filing of charges. The U.S. constitution that I swore to support and defend simply does not allow that.
    The fact they are not technically on U.S. soil, does not change that at all, since the property is an established U.S. Military base.
    File charges, hold trials already. If they truly are enemies and have committed war crimes or civilian crimes, just file the charges!
    See, not all vets (not even close) think alike.

  • KentL1

    The problem is that injustice that roots itself in our baser instincts is like a pernicious weed with a lovely flower and intoxicating, addictive scent. It spreads quickly and smothers or devours all else. It runs out of control. It runs rampant. It takes over. Those who first admired it must save face by defending it. Those who stand to gain by it pass laws to protect it. Everyone else just has to survive it or find a way to leave its domain.

    Justice roots itself in our higher nature where the soil seems to be scarce. It’s harder to grow. It requires attention. It requires time and patience and thought. There are disappointments. Its stems and leaves are often distorted, The flowers have no smell.
    But the fruit is nourishing and filling and sweet and plentiful, and its benefits are long lasting.

    The alluring weed that is Guantanamo will not stay in Guantanamo. It will spread and be welcomed on our shores, the way will be cleared for it, and justice will be chopped down or smothered.
    The weed that is Guantanamo won’t stay in Guantanamo. The base instinct soil is everywhere, deep and fertile. If you like the smell of profit, you will smell off-shore prisons, stocked with American prisoners. If you like the seductive colors of patriotism, you will not mind as it creeps up to your town, your street, your home, feeding on your desire for self-righteousness, exceptionalism, feeding on fears and seeding fears. It requires no work to maintain and its coming and its going to stay.

    Justice is harder. That’s why we have to struggle and work to protect it from our baser instincts. It dies easily. Its seeds may lie dormant for centuries only because once eradicated it takes centuries to grow again.