Skip to main content

Stop force-feeding inmates and close Gitmo

By Vince Warren, Special to CNN
updated 5:47 AM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vince Warren: It took 100 men on a hunger strike for Obama to remember he must close Gitmo
  • Warren: Starving is the only way inmates can protest being held 11 years with no charges
  • Obama sent more staff to force feed hunger strikers, which is considered torture, he says
  • Warren: Obama has authority to close prison, it's a ruse that Congress prevents him

Editor's note: Vince Warren is the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal and educational organization that works to protect rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR represented clients in two Guantanamo Supreme Court cases and coordinates the work of hundreds of pro bono attorneys representing prisoners there.

(CNN) -- It has taken almost three months and more than 100 men embarking on a life-threatening hunger strike for President Obama to remind himself and the nation why the prison at Guantanamo Bay needs to be closed.

Self-starvation is excruciating, but as one of our clients expressed, this is the only way the men at Guantanamo have left to tell the world what it means to be unjustly detained without charge or trial for more than 11 years with no end in sight.

Vincent Warren
Vincent Warren

The starvation protest, which began in February, has created headlines around the world. Of the 100 men, 23 are being force fed to keep them alive. As you read this, it's likely that some of the men are being dragged from their cells, strapped to restraint chairs, and a rubber tube inserted up their nose and into their stomachs to pump in liquid dietary supplement. One of the men described the traumatic experience to his attorney as having a razor blade go down through your nose and into your throat.

Last week, 40 additional military medical personnel were sent to Guantanamo to assist with the force-feedings, a practice that the American Medical Association condemned as a violation of "core ethical values of the medical profession" and the United Nations condemned as torture and a breach of international law.

Force-feedings at Guantanamo are nothing new, and much like indefinite detention, the practice has come to define the prison. In 2005, when the first mass hunger strike at the prison took place, the Bush administration also responded by having medical personnel force-feed the men.

Back then the men were fighting for due process and access to attorneys; eight years later and with more than half the prison population cleared for release by the Obama administration itself, the men are asking for an end to their indefinite detention.

As President Obama said last week, the prison is "not necessary to keep America safe. It's expensive, it's inefficient, it hurts us in terms of international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies in counterterrorism efforts."

It is also illegal and inhumane, as the United Nations' top independent human rights experts and the international human rights body with jurisdiction over the United States, the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reminded the president.

Ethics of forced feeding at Guantanamo
Lawyer: Political will could close Gitmo
Outrage over Gitmo
Gitmo hunger strike presents dilemma

I would like to believe that if the president could see what lawyers at my organization have witnessed during visits with our clients in the last few weeks, he would act without delay to make good on the promise he made to close Guantanamo Bay four years ago.

The toll that starvation and the violence of force-feedings have taken on the men is painful to see. They have lost 30 to 40 pounds, they look skeletal, and many are losing consciousness and coughing up blood. Last we heard, one of our clients weighed 90 pounds.

I'd like to believe that if President Obama knew a man like Djamel Ameziane, he would understand that closing the prison is not a matter of political expediency but life or death.

Djamel has been cleared for release, the government has said there are no "military rationales" for detaining him further, and other countries have expressed an interest in resettling him because he fears persecution in his home country of Algeria. Yet he continues to languish in a cell years later. What does that do to a man's spirit?

The president said he continues to believe "we've got to close Guantanamo." But believing is not enough. Believing in the president and having their hopes for justice raised and dashed so many times since the order to close Guantanamo was first signed in 2009 is what drove the men at Guantanamo to put their lives on the line with this hunger strike.

Guantanamo is back in the news in a serious way for the first time in years, and it is the men themselves who have succeeded in putting it there, using the only peaceful means they have available to them to demand their lives back.

The president has more staff members force-feeding men whom his own administration cleared for release than he has working to transfer them out.

It should not take the inevitable deaths that will follow from this crisis for the president to act. He must stop pretending Congress is preventing him from doing anything. Right now he has the authority that Congress provided under the National Defense Authorization Act to start transferring the men who have been cleared using a national security waiver.

He also has the power to lift his self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen. Collective punishment based on nationality is as illegal as indefinite detention.

The president said the right things last week. He has said the right things before. All it takes now is the humanity and the will to act and end the horror that is Guantanamo prison.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vincent Warren.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
updated 2:33 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT