3-21-2013By Adam Jacobson
Law and Security Program
The military confirmed this week that an ongoing hunger strike among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay has expanded to 24 detainees. According to Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald, eight of the 24 have “missed enough meals and lost enough body weight to be fed nutritional supplements by tubes snaked up their noses and into their stomachs. Guards shackle detainees into restraint chairs to carry out the twice daily feedings.”
In the past, detainees have taken part in hunger strikes, but never in such high numbers. The detainees claim that the strike is in response to guards searching their personal copies of the Quran, which they see as desecration. A camp spokesman denies any desecration, calling the claim “a detainee-created myth.”
Though the hunger strike is not at the heart of the issues that remain at Guantanamo, it certainly does draw the nation’s attention to the facility and its problems. There are currently 166 detainees at Guantanamo, many cleared for release or transfer but stranded in a seemingly hopeless situation of the U.S. government’s making. They are not charged and tried, nor are they released. The last detainee to leave Guantanamo (Adnan Latif) did so in a body bag, after allegedly committing suicide.
Although Congress has limited the options for transferring detainees to either third countries or the U.S. for trial or detention, the Obama Administration nonetheless has sufficient authority to transfer cleared detainees if it’s willing to invest the political capital to do so. Last year, 15 retired Generals and Admirals wrote to President Obama asking him to do just that.
Meanwhile, as the Guantanamo detainees languish in this legal limbo, the Obama Administration has announced the capture of and federal charges against two al Qaeda figures in as many weeks. These men will get trials for their alleged crimes, facing a jury in a federal court system hundreds of years old and with a track record of successfully trying nearly 500 terrorism-related cases similar to theirs without incident since 9/11.
By contrast, the detainees at Guantanamo are lucky to face a military commission at all, and when they do, the result is most likely a confused mess of procedural debate stretching over years, if not decades.
Guantanamo is not a hopeless quagmire – the United States can close the prison if it tries. The Obama Administration can start by implementing the process of periodic review boards to evaluate whether detention of individual detainees is warranted. President Obama mandated the review boards by executive order two years ago, but has missed his own deadline by a year. Human Rights First has published a blueprint laying out this and other steps the administration can take to close Guantanamo, which you can read here.
The good news is that there is a path forward on Guantanamo. Now, the United States just needs to take it.