Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thinking About Hunger Strikes (a Close Gitmo Blog-in post)

This is a humor blog.  But this is not a humor blog post.  You are hereby warned, but I ask you to read anyway.

I'm thinking about hunger strikes.

Hunger strikes are truly a course of last resort.  If everything you have has been stripped from you--freedom, relationships, your voice--refusing to eat is your last way to make a statement.  One that could cause your slow, painful death, so that better be one hell of a statement.  Anyone who says that people do hunger strikes for attention--perhaps that's true but it isn't like you're campaigning to be homecoming queen. You are manipulating the very last thing you can control to say something important.

Although you wouldn't know it via American mainstream media, there are Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp prisoners hunger striking.  How many is not clear.  Lawyers for the prisoners are saying a majority of them (there are 166 prisoners in Gitmo now).  Those in charge of Gitmo say much fewer than that, but acknowledged they have been force-feeding some prisoners through tubes in their stomach.  U.S. Military officials are saying that some are refusing meals but living on snacks in their cells.  Lawyers are stating there are prisoners who have lost 20-30 lbs in the past five weeks.  It's hard to know what the exact truth is (and that's part of the problem, isn't it), but it is clear: some men are seriously hunger striking.

The prisoners say through lawyers that they are striking because of mistreatment of their sacred text, the Koran.  In the spirit of the Golden Rule and common human decency, I truly hope that is not the case, and military officials are denying the charges vigorously.  But the issue is bigger than that--its about what leads people to hunger strike. This detention camp has been running for 11 years, under two administrations of different political parties.  There are men there who have been cleared of all charges and are not being released.  There are others who have been in legal limbo, with no court date in sight, for years.  All while we live with a second term president who promised to close Gitmo in his first term, and seems to be doing nothing on the issue now.


If I were a prisoner, I have no idea how I would respond to such circumstances.  Hunger striking may look like a way out of no way. 

I won't deny there are complicating issues here.  But it isn't so complicated that a nation that is supposed to stand for freedom and justice can't make that stand here.  This is the simple reality human decency demands: release the prisoners who have been cleared.  Make an assessment of charges and order speedy trials for the other prisoners.  That is what should have been done--years ago. This isn't a political issue, and its not a security issue; it's a human rights issue.

America should be better than this, and I think we are.  The people are the source of any governmental power in a democracy, so if enough people speak out, our legislators will get the spine to do the right thing.  No one wants to touch this issue because 1) there is no political reward in this, and 2) it uncovers an eleven years that may make the United States look bad...but that is no excuse to not do the right thing now.  And as a Christian speaking primarily to other Christians, we believe in the power of prayer as well.  If hunger striking is some men's "way out of no way," I suggest we make prayer ours.  This situation cannot stand.  We cannot be imprisoning foreign citizens indefinitely, and incarcerating ones who have been cleared is an absolute outrage.  We need prayer and we need people willing to act for what is right.

  • If you are an American citizen and want to send messages to your elected officials to close Guantanamo now,  here is how you bug contact people:
    • Your U.S. Congressional representatives and their contact information can be found here.
    • President Obama may be contacted here.

  • Some mainstream media reports for your background, if you don't know anything about this (and I don't blame you, because it isn't really getting covered):
    • This week from Reuters 
    • This week from Rt.com here and here. 
    • Op-ed from UK's The Guardian, with good background.
    • "Future of Guantanamo remains unclear on 10th anniversary" WaPo, Jan 2012.
    • Long piece from WaPo, on why Gitmo hasn't been closed, dated April 2011.

This post brought to you courtesy of a Bunch Of Catholics Blogging To Close Gitmo, and I encourage you to join us by writing your own post/status/tweet today, March 21st.  My compatriot Sherry Antonetti is working with me on this, and her excellent post is here.  And before you say, is this what America has come to--a rally for change led by two humor bloggers?--let me be the first to say, unfortunately, it has.  But others are joining us and some have worked to educate on this issue a long time.  I tip my hat to their hard work.  Now let's get praying and calling!

Other posts I know about, all better than mine:

Sherry Antonetti's post "Nothing That Concerns You Has Happened"
Thomas MacDonald's God and the Machine
Frank Weathers' Why I Am Catholic
Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It
Erin Manning at Coalition for Clarity 
Rob Kroese's webpage; "Are you being tested?" (p.s. Rob is an honorary Catholic today)
Bernadette Raspante's reflection on graduating from grammar school, opening Gitmo.  (Guess who's been able to move on?)
Dcn Scott Dodge: "Redress the Wrongs"

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