Thursday, March 21, 2013

Monstrous inhumanity at Gitmo

You've probably seen these kinds of posts popping up in the Catholic blogosphere already today, but I wanted to take part in this effort to raise awareness about what's going on at the Guantanamo prison...

Did you know that there's been a hunger strike going on among prisoners held at Guantanamo for six weeks now?  And that the number of those participating has risen to include 24 of the 166 prisoners there, most of whom have been held for eleven years now without even being charged?  And that half of them have been cleared to be released or transferred, but they're still being held?

Neither did I.  And information in the mainstream media about all of this has been rather scanty.  For instance, here's a bit from a Reuters piece:
Periodic hunger strikes have occurred at Guantanamo since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002 to house suspects captured in overseas counterterrorism operations after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The prison has 166 inmates. Nearly all have been held for 11 years without charge, and about half have been cleared for transfer or release. Many are Yemenis who the United States will not repatriate at this time because of instability in that country.

More than 50 lawyers representing the prisoners sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week urging him to help end the hunger strike, which they said began on February 6 to protest the confiscation of letters, photographs and legal mail, and the rough handling of Korans during searches of their cells.

They said the participants' health had deteriorated alarmingly, and that some had lost more than 20 or 30 pounds (9 to 14 kilograms). Kelly said the prisoners who spoke to Guantanamo staff cited other reasons for the strike.

"They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated apparently ... when the president backed off, at least (that's) their perception, of closing the facility," Kelly told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in Washington.

Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman at the detention camp, said 24 Guantanamo captives were on a hunger strike and eight had lost enough weight that doctors were force-feeding them liquid nutrients thorough tubes inserted in their noses and into their stomachs. Two were hospitalized with dehydration, he said.
 And here's a similar look from CNN:

More prisoners have joined a hunger strike at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The number of suspected terrorists involved has risen to 24 as of Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said.

There were 14 last week. U.S. military officials deny detainee lives are in danger. [...]

Beginning last year through mid-February, between five and six detainees started and stopped hunger strikes, Breasseale said.

But the numbers grew after lawyers for some of the detainees drew attention to conditions at the facility, Breasseale said.

"The reports of hunger-strike related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue," Breasseale said.

David Remes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 15 detainees at Guantanamo, said his February visit shocked him.

"I think every one of the clients I saw had lost 30 pounds or more when I was there," Remes said. "They were weak and chilled."

Remes said two of his clients were unable to meet because they were too weak from their hunger strike. He said he knows that at least six of his clients are participating.

Can you imagine the outcry that would be taking place in the mainstream media if this were happening in a Republican administration?  And it would be justified, make no mistake.  Holding prisoners for eleven years without even charging them with crimes, when half of them could be released or transferred today, is simply monstrous inhumanity.  Calling the prisoners "detainees" and "suspected terrorists" shouldn't reduce their humanity in our eyes; if you've been held as a "suspect" in jail for eleven years you are no longer a suspect; you are a political prisoner.  Where is the evidence that any of these people were ever involved in actual terrorist acts?  At the very least, the ones who have been cleared to be released but are still being held are having their human rights violated in the most egregious way.

Go to the Ironic Catholic's blog post to find links that will help you contact the president and your elected officials about this.  And I encourage you to pray for the situation to improve and for the prisoners to be treated with their full human dignity, which would include at the very minimum releasing and transferring those who have already been cleared for this to happen.

(Cross-posted at And Sometimes Tea.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Don't say it can't happen in America

A man was arrested in New Mexico and kept in solitary confinement for 22 months without ever even being brought before a judge:
Stephen Slevin spent 22 months in solitary confinement in a New Mexico jail. During that time, his mental health deteriorated, fungus grew on his skin, and he was forced to pull his own tooth after being denied access to a dentist. A recent settlement with Dona Ana County resulted in Slevin receiving $15.5 million.

Initially, Slevin was awarded $22 million by a jury, but Dona Ana County appealed. The two parties reached an agreement this week. According to NBC News, Slevin's attorney, Matt Coyte, said his client's "mental health has been severely compromised from the time he was in that facility. That continues to be the same. No amount of money will bring back what they took away from him. But it’s nice to be able to get him some money so he can improve where he is in life and move on."

During his 22 months in solitary confinement, Slevin developed bedsores and lost 50 pounds. The ordeal began in 2005 when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and stealing a car, which he says he borrowed from a friend. Slevin was never brought before a judge nor was he officially convicted of any crime. He said he wrote letters, begging for help with his depression. The before and after photos show the effect the 22 months of neglect had.

If you think this kind of thing can't happen in America, think again. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Well, that's reassuring

United States Attorney General Eric Holder says Obama can indeed order drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil--but that he probably won't:

President Barack Obama has the legal authority to unleash deadly force—such as drone strikes—against Americans on U.S. soil without first putting them on trial, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter released Tuesday.

But Holder, writing to Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, underlined that Obama “has no intention” of targeting his fellow citizens with unmanned aerial vehicles and would do so only if facing “an extraordinary circumstance.”

Paul had asked the Obama administration on Feb. 20 whether the president "has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil and without trial." On Tuesday, he denounced Holder's response as “frightening” and “an affront to the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

“The U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so,” Holder assured Paul in the March 4, 2013 letter. The attorney general also underlined that “we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.

Holder added: “The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront."
Bottom line: the U.S. Attorney General says it's okay for the President to kill American citizens without trial or due process under some undefined "extraordinary circumstance."  But it's all just hypothetical, so no need to worry.

Well, that's reassuring.  Er, not.