Saturday, May 3, 2008

Unmasking the Thirst for Vengeance

A recent article in the International Herald Tribune informs us that many of the prisoners kept in isolation at Guantánamo Bay for five years and counting have suffered severe psychological damage. Perhaps that is why some have been driven to suicide. However, a military spokesperson hastens to set the record straight: the detainees are not kept in solitary confinement but rather in “single-occupancy cells.” Luxuriously appointed, no doubt.

Exactly what do we fear from these men? Is it because they are vampires that we keep them in windowless cells, deprived of daylight? Though surrounded by heavily armed guards when moving from one part of Camp6 to another, they are shackled hand and foot. Maybe they possess some Houdini-like power to slip out of handcuffs.

What have they done to us, these men --the grocer, the teacher, the reporter-- that we first beat them and then rendered them hooded and bound to Gitmo? Only a few stand accused of any wrongdoing, despite multiple hearings before Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Yet even those “cleared for transfer” remain imprisoned, while we censor their mail and deny them contact with their families.

When will our thirst for vengeance be satisfied? When will we show some compassion?

Postscript: Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj was finally released late Thursday after more than 5 years in US custody. He had been conducting a hunger strike since January 2007 to protest conditions at Gitmo. On the news last evening, US authorities called him "manipulative."

My idea of manipulation:
Although the ethics of the medical profession stipulate that a mentally competent hunger striker cannot be force-fed, the US authorities disagreed. Twice a day, for the last 480 days, Sami was strapped into a restraint chair, secured with 16 separate straps, and force-fed against his will via a tube inserted into his stomach through his nose. From Andy Worthington's blog

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