Hey America, remember when this happened?
Maybe you forgot, because Obama signed the order to close Guantanamo over 5 years ago. Now, let’s be fair. Obama has failed at plenty of things he pledged to do as president. We shouldn’t single out this particular failure when we have NSA surveillance and drone bombings to worry about. What we should do, though, is remember that Guantanamo is even a thing. In all the excitement over those horrible policies, one of the more nightmarishly Kafkaesque aspects of the War on Terror has been pushed out of the news. It’s frightening that we need to be reminded. The US’s torture and detention of terror suspects without trial or charges, with no concrete end in sight, has faded into the background and become, simply, a fact of our country.
There are reasons Guantanamo hasn’t closed yet. After Obama’s promise in 2009, there was a period of discussion over how to go about closing the prison. It ended with a question mark, because no state was willing to take the inmates, even the states that love building new prisons! Closure also became a partisan issue, of course, where Democrats and Republicans landed on predictable sides, leading to the sort of quagmire you can expect from American politics.
End result being, we couldn’t build a prison that could hold the men within the US, with civilian auditors and watchdog groups making sure the prisoners weren’t being fucking tortured. We couldn’t even get one built abroad, staffed with civilian employees that didn’t have a vendetta against inmates that might have helped kill their war buddies, due to the US Army’s need to oversee anything having to do with soldiers.
At a pace so slow it makes you theatrically tap your foot, detainees are being released. During Obama’s two terms, 83 prisoners have been released, a figure absolutely dwarfed by George Bush’s. And maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, Bush started the program, he probably had tons of innocent people put in there and tortured for several years before the administration did some homework and let them out, before Obama could!” That’s a fair point, but 75 of the men never given a trial were cleared for release four years ago and are still waiting.
154 people remain in the prison, and their treatment there is still horrific. While Obama rededicates himself to fulfilling the promise he made half a decade ago, there’s been little attempt to actually improve the prison itself. In all the talk about closing it, how it’s a black mark on the history of our country, it seems like it’s been taken as a given that Guantanamo is and always will be a place of inhuman cruelty. Sure, yeah, please close it, Obama. But until you do, couldn’t you cut it the fuck out with the abusive, degrading treatment that led almost the entire prison to go on hunger strike last year?
And then once that happened, did you really have to disregard medical ethics guidelines and begin force feeding them? On Ramadan? Ignoring the fact that the force feeding is immoral in the first place, the way it’s carried out at Guantanamo is medically unsound and abusive:
The American Gastroenterological Association recommends that medical service providers feed patients no more than 260 ml of liquid (about a cup) per 15 minutes. The volume administered at Guantanamo is almost seven times that recommendation.
Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) takes part in a demonstration of the procedure, which many dickheads complained was dramatized.
And hey, what’s with renaming hunger strikes, the inmates’ expression of how horrible this place is, “long-term non-religious fasts?” You yourself say Guantanamo is horrible and needs to be closed. Instead of using doublespeak to “eliminate” hunger strikes from Guantanamo, couldn’t you try to make the place less horrible? All you would have to do is be like “Guys. Guys who work at Guantanamo. Pretend this is a real prison, and all the people here have human rights.” You promised to close the prison five years ago; wouldn’t it be a show of good faith to do what you can while they’re still stuck there? I guess that’s asking too much.
Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay might be purely symbolic, but at least his feet-dragging helps us keep it in mind. This is something we have to remember and hold our country accountable for. If and when Guantanamo closes, we still have to remember it. Guantanamo isn’t an unfortunate mistake, it’s a visible example of America’s human rights policy. There are many such US-run prisons that operate under the same no charge, no trial protocol, with worse conditions. Nobody has promised to close them, and unless we demand it, nobody will.