Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Gitmo: Where Death is Preferable to Life


More than 100 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are starving themselves to death. Twenty-three of them are being force-fed. “They strap you to a chair, tie up your wrists, your legs, your forehead and tightly around the waist,” Fayiz Al-Kandari told his lawyer, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard. Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo for 11 years, has never been charged with a crime.

“The tube makes his eyes water excessively and blood begins to trickle from the nose. Once the tube passes his throat the gag reflex kicks in. Warm liquid is poured into the body for 45 minutes to two hours. He feels like his body is going to convulse and often vomits,” Wingard added.

The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded that force-feeding amounts to torture. The American Medical Association says that force-feeding violates medical ethics. “Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” AMA President Jeremy Lazarus wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Yet President Barack Obama continues the tortuous Bush policy of force-feeding hunger strikers.

Although a few days after his first inauguration, Obama promised to shutter Guantanamo, it remains open. “I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo,” Obama declared in his April 30 press conference. But, he added, “Congress determined that they would not let us close it.” Obama signed a bill that Congress passed which erected barriers to closure. According to a Los Angeles Times editorial, “Obama has refused to expend political capital on closing Guantanamo. Rather than veto the defense authorization bills that have limited his ability to transfer inmates, he has signed them while raising questions about whether they intruded on his constitutional authority.”

“I don’t want these individuals to die,” Obama told reporters. In fact, Obama has the power to save the hunger strikers’ lives without torturing them. Eighty-six – more than half – of the detainees
remaining at Guantanamo have been cleared for release for the past three years. Section 1028(d) of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act empowers the Secretary of Defense to approve transfers of detainees when it is in the national security interest of the United States. Fifty-six of the 86 cleared detainees are from Yemen. Yet Obama imposed a ban on releasing any of them following the foiled 2009 Christmas bomb plot by a Nigerian man who was recruited in Yemen. Obama must begin signing these certifications and waivers at once.

Indeed, Obama said in his press conference, “I think – well, you know, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe . . . It hurts us in terms of our international standing . . . It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

In addition, Obama’s March 7, 2011 Executive Order 13567 provides for additional administrative review of detainees’ cases. The Periodic Review Board (PRB) would provide an opportunity for a detainee to challenge his continued detention. Yet Obama has delayed by more than a year PRB hearings at which other detainees could be cleared for release. Despite a requirement that the PRB begin review within one year, no PRB has yet been created. Obama should appoint an official to oversee the closure of Guantanamo and commence periodic reviews immediately so that detainees can challenge their designations and additional detainees can be approved for transfer.

Moreover, as suggested by Lt. Col. David Frakt, who represented Guantanamo detainees before the military commissions and in federal habeas corpus proceedings, Obama should direct the attorney general to inform the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Department of Justice no longer considers the cleared detainees to be detainable. Obama has blocked the release of eight cleared detainees by opposing their habeas corpus petitions. “[W]hen the Obama administration really wants to transfer a detainee, they are quite capable of doing so,” Frakt wrote in JURIST.

The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, which includes two former senior U.S. generals, and a Republican former congressman and lawyer, Asa Hutchinson, issued a report that concluded the treatment and indefinite detention of the Guantanamo detainees is “abhorrent and intolerable.” It called for the closure of the prison camp by next year.

Twenty-five former Guantanamo detainees issued a statement recommending that the American medical profession stop its complicity with abuse force-feeding techniques; conditions on confinement for detainees be improved immediately; all detainees who have not been charged be released; and the military commissions process be ended and all those be charged tried in line with the Geneva Conventions.

The detainees who are refusing food have been stripped of all possessions, including a sleeping mat and soap, and are made to sleep on concrete floors in freezing solitary cells. “It is possible that I may die in here,” said Shaker Aamer through his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith. “I hope not, but if I do die, please tell my children that I loved them above all else, but that I had to stand up for the principle that they cannot just keep holding people without a trial, especially when they have been cleared for release.” Aamer, a British father of four, was approved for release more than five years ago.

Col. Morris Davis, who served as Chief Prosecutor for the Terrorism Trials at Guantanamo, personally charged Osama bin Laden’s driver Salim Hamdan, Australian David Hicks, and Canadian teen Omar Khadr. All three were convicted and have been released from Guantanamo. “There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home,” Davis wrote to Obama.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of human rights at Thomas Jefferson School and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.”





Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She writes, speaks and does media about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border