In case you haven’t read it yet, the New York Times today published an op-ed from a prisoner at Guantanamo, providing a rare glimpse of the treatment and living conditions for those held without charge as part of the US’s “War on Terror.” Suffice to say, it is incredibly powerful:
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. […]
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.
And that is only concerning the abstract and philosophical question of humane treatment and speedy trials. The details of the actual force-feeding are far more harrowing:
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.
There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.
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.
Regardless of what one thinks of the presumed innocence or guilt of those detained at Guantanamo (or of those doing the detaining), the fact remains that the prisoners still have not been given the opportunity to have that innocence or guilt proven in a court of law. And it is worth remembering that nearly four and a half years ago, Obama promised to close the prison at Guantanamo, yet it still operates today in conditions that are cloudy yet repressive. Indeed, while the hunger strike has received some mild coverage (and was mentioned here, here, and here), it has not been the subject of significant reporting in the US. Not helping is the fact that the US government’s account of what is going on the base has never been forthcoming or definitive, and constant shifts (from “it’s just a minority of strikers” to “well, it’s a lot of strikers, and for a long-enough time that we’re force-feeding them,” to today’s op-ed) do nothing to suggest the government is forthcoming. Again, regardless of what one thinks of the individuals detained in Guantanamo, prisoners still have basic human rights, rights that the US has been far too slow to acknowledge.