Other Mothers, Other Sons ...
Today is Mother's Day in America. It is also exactly 32 years and one week following the death of Bobby Sands -- political prisoner, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and elected representative to the British House of Commons -- following his 65-day hunger strike in the "H-Blocks" at the Long Kesh Prison in the United Kingdom. His mother wept.
Thirty two years and one week after a haggard Rosaleen Sands announced her son's death to the media, it would be not only appropriate, but crucial to reflect, among the flowers being delivered and last-minute, long-distance telephone calls being made today by other sons to other mothers, that what killed Bobby Sands and broke his mother's heart continues to occur, only this time much closer to home. The present act of desperation, largely ignored by mainstream media but ongoing since February, 2013, is being demonstrated by a number that has grown to more than 100 of the 166 political detainees of the United States government, at the military facility located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Eighty-six of those remaining at Gitmo have been cleared for release by our government yet continue to languish there, suffering "a plight almost Kafkaesque in its cruel absurdity: though the United States believes they should be released from their concrete cells at Guantanamo Bay, they have stayed in prison, often for years, not because of any crime they committed or immediate threat they pose, but because of diplomatic and political hurdles out of their control." Max Fisher, The Washington Post, April 23, 2013.
On March 4, 2013, 14 lawyers representing the detainees signed and delivered a letter to command at Gitmo, whose credentials are reminiscent of those boasted by the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men: Rear Admiral John W. Smith, Jr., Commander, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Captain Thomas J. Welsh, JAGC, USN Staff Judge Advocate, Joint Task Force Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Included in the letter:
The letter concludes:
"We look forward to hearing from you by March 6."
"The practices occurring today threaten to turn back the clock to the worst moments of Guantanamo's history, and return the prison to conditions that caused great suffering to our clients and were condemned by the public at large."
As chronicled by Jason Leopold, who for Truthout has almost singularly been reporting about the 2013 hunger strike since its outset, this was a direct reference to riots and a hunger strike waged by the detainees in May, 2006 -- again sparked by deliberate mishandling of the Qu'ran -- which culminated in the deaths of three men on June 9, 2006, who took part in the hunger strike: deaths which "were ruled suicides, although evidence presented by Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, a former Guantanamo guard, suggested foul play." Jason Leopold, Truthout, April 1, 2013.
No doubt also of concern to the attorneys for the detainees was the death of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni who had been snagged in 2001 at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and thereafter transferred to Gitmo, where he remained until his writ of habeas corpus was granted by a federal district judge in 2010, and he was ordered free. But before he could pack his Qu'ran, the decision was promptly overturned by the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. Thereafter Mr. Latif engaged in a hunger strike and other acts of protest, and was eventually found dead in his cell on September 8, 2012. He was described by his attorney, David Remes, as a "talented poet and deeply devout" man who was "mentally fragile and at times sedated, placed on suicide watch, and sent to the prison's psychological ward."
Hope. In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama campaigned on a theme of "hope." And "change." And a promise to close Gitmo.
That promise was reiterated following the election of President Obama:
Although closing Guantanamo Bay was scarcely mentioned during the 2012 campaign, less than a month before the election the incumbent President Obama, whose base had become unstable, renewed his long-standing pledge to do so:
Yet following his reelection in 2012, and shortly after taking his second oath of office in January, 2013, the Obama administration abruptly scrubbed the department charged with repatriating or resettling those still being held at "Camp Delta" at Gitmo. Further, as reported by Charlie Savage in the New York Times on March 25, 2013: "[T]he United States Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo, has requested nearly $200 million to renovate facilities that were built to be temporary but are now deteriorating, including barracks and a meal hall for the guards."
Astonishingly, however, Obama's promise to "return to habeas corpus," now six years old, was revived as recently as April 30, 2013, when at a press conference President Obama reaffirmed his intention to close Gitmo.
In reality: a mere six months before Mr. Latif lost his "hope" on September 8, 2012, the White House had issued a press release noting:
In their March 4, 2013, letter to Guantanamo command regarding the ongoing hunger strike, the 14 signing attorneys representing the detainees requested a response by March 6. Unofficially, they did not have to wait that long. That very day, prison spokesman Naval Capt. Robert Durand denied that any such activity was taking place.
After an additional 36 lawyers for the detainees joined the original 14 and demanded a more cohesive response from the government about the abuse and extent of the hunger strike at Gitmo, Capt. Durand released a formal statement on March 20, 2013, stating that "the recent allegations" made by the Guantanamo Bay detainees were "patently false." He acknowledged that "only 25 of the 166 detainees are currently designated as hunger strikers," and employed the euphemism "enternal feeding" that was deemed necessary to "ensure sufficient nutrition, fluid, and calorie intake" because "the health and well-being of the detainees" is the "primary mission" of the "medical staff ... at GTMO."
The following day, Gen. John Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command that oversees Guantanamo Bay Naval Facility, downplayed the controversy. He told the House Armed Services Committee that some prisoners were "eating a bit, but not a lot."
Prior to the unexplained death of hunger strike participant Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif on September 8, 2012, another detainee at Camp Delta had also refused food and died. Thirty-one-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih succumbed on June 1, 2009, after refusing to eat to protest his indefinite confinement without his right to habeas corpus. He was also subjected to "enternal feeding" before his death. In an OpEd piece written by detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, and published in print by the New York Times on April 15, 2013, Mr. Moqbel described force-feeding as follows:
An 85-page review by the Pentagon, prepared by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh and released in February, 2009, concluded that force-feeding of the detainees "is in compliance with the Geneva Conventions' mandate that the lives of prisoners be preserved." (This, of course, is the very same Pentagon that concluded during the Bush administration that water-boarding was not in violation of the Geneva Conventions. And what is force-feeding but a form of water-boarding with Ensure?) However, Human Rights organizations world-wide disagree with that Pentagon interpretation. In October, 2006, the World Medical Assembly of Malta on Hunger Strikers stated:
Further, the International Red Cross disputes the conclusion about force-feeding asserted by Adm. Walsh:
And what is our Commander-in-Chief's response to force-feeding detainees at Gitmo? When asked about it at a recent news conference, President Obama responded as follows:
On the day the OpEd written by detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel appeared on the pages of the the New York Times, CNN's chirpy Brianna Keilar began a segment on the piece:
Who could make this stuff up? Perhaps Newswoman Brianna Keilar and her viewers had not "even thought about" Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "lately." Perhaps if they diverted their attention from an endless murder trial involving a now-convicted crazy woman, or whether pretty Amanda Knox is, indeed, "Foxy Knoxy," as she is known in Italy, they may have thought a little about the human suffering, degradation, and denial of basic rights occurring in the "U.S. detention facility there." But they didn't. However, now that it was splashed all over the pages of the Old Gray Lady, a producer must have thought it warranted some "thought." Brianna began her interview with Brig. Gen. James "Spider" Marks (Ret.), CNN Military Analyst. He got right to the point about a man who has never been tried or convicted of anything, except being Yemeni:
Can't you just hear: "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" booming in your ears?
Next, Brianna turned to Ohio Federal Public Defender Carlos Warner, an original signatory on the March 4, 2013, letter, and who in September, 2009, along with his colleague Andy Hart, filed a document in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., accusing CIA officers of chaining the hands above his heart of the alleged translator for Osama bin Laden -- for days at a time. Mr. Warner was quoted at the time as saying:
Carlos Warner was on fire when he was finally given a national television platform -- by those who "may not even have thought about" his 11 clients and the remaining detainees at Gitmo "lately":
Carlos Warner continued, at rapid-fire pace, to express his outrage about the conditions at Camp Delta. And although Brianna never asked a single question of "Spider" Marks, her talking points did instruct her to challenge Carlos Warner:
As Attorney Warner attempted to respond, he was abruptly cut off by Miss Brianna:
On May 1, 2013, Jason Leopold reported for Truthout that Carlos Warner's legal partner, Andy Hart, was found dead of an "apparently ... self-inflicted gunshot wound."