Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


The Easy Way vs. The Right Way

The New York Times reports this morning that the United States military is force feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay. Force feeding them by strapping recalcitrant detainees into "restraint chairs," sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward and "dissuading" hunger strikers by placing them in uncomfortably cold air-conditioned isolation cells, depriving them of "comfort items" like blankets and books and sometimes using riot-control soldiers to compel the prisoners to sit still while long plastic tubes were threaded down their nasal passages and into their stomachs.

The most absurd quote from the article, attributed to the chief military spokesman at Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Jeremy M. Martin, that "hunger striking is an Al Qaeda tactic used to elicit media attention and also to bring pressure on the U.S. government."

An Al Qaeda tactic? Tell that to Mahatma Gandhi. Or the British Suffragettes (some of whom died after crude 19th century attempts at force feeding poured gruel into their lungs instead of their stomachs). Or Akbar Ganji, the imprisoned Iranian journalist whose hunger strike prompted the White House to issue this statement last year, which reads, in part: "His calls for freedom deserve to be heard. His valiant efforts should not go in vain. The President calls on all supporters of human rights and freedom, and the United Nations, to take up Ganji's case and the overall human rights situation in Iran." At least the Iranians tried and convicted Gangji, handing down a definitive sentence with a defined term to his imprisonment!

The US admits to having around 500 detainees at Guantanamo. They are "enemy combatants" being held indefinitely, without charges and without trial. There may be evidence that every one of those detainees is a hardened killer part of a global plot against the United States, but we'll never know and it seems they'll never get their day in court. They are absolutely powerless and our government is treating them the Easy Way instead of the Right Way.

The Easy Way is to imprison anyone who might be a threat. The Easy Way means not bothering with those inconvenient expectations of fair treatment under the law, protection from abuse and depravity, the gathering of evidence, filing of charges, or judicial hearing. Those things are hard, and time-consuming! The Easy Way is what leads to torture and abuse of prisoners that we would never accept for our own people. It's easier to scoop up everyone, spy on everyone. FISA? Warrants? Judges? Accountability to Congress? That's not the Easy Way!

As an American, I do not accept the Easy Way because I was brought up to believe our country behaves the Right Way. Not just that we promote some jingoistic definition of "democracy" around the world, but the explicit rights and freedoms that we reserved for ourselves and enshrined in our constitution, upheld by the laws of our land. As an American, I believe we reserve these freedoms no only for ourselves, but that we believe in them for all men and women. We do not apply these standards only when we are forced to do so, we apply these standards because they are Right. We cannot applaud the hunger strike of the imprisoned Iranian journalist while using force to quell similar protests against us. Our Constitution is the standard by which we expect to be treated, and by which we are expected to treat others, not just when it is easy to do so.


for this post

Anonymous Evan Says:

Amen, sister!

Blogger Alan Kellogg Says:

What about motivation? Ghandi went on hunger strikes to bring attention to wrongs. To bring about changes in British policy and gain independence for India. The detainees at Guantanamo do it to gain attention, and to change American policy. But - and this is very important, they're also doing it to reverse what is happening in Iraq (among other places), and to secure a radical muslimoid regime. They wish to see the Taliban restored, for they are certain they can make it work.

That's the difference here. Mahatma Ghandi wanted freedom for his land and his people. The insurgents want to see the establishment of a tyrannical theocracy, because they don't trust people to act as they are supposed to. Mahatmas starved for the sake of others, the insurgents are starving themselves for their own benefit.

Think of it not as self-sacrifice, think of it as ideologically motivated anorexia nervosa.

Blogger Nikchick Says:

But - and this is very important, they're also doing it to reverse what is happening in Iraq (among other places), and to secure a radical muslimoid regime. They wish to see the Taliban restored, for they are certain they can make it work.

Prove that, Alan. Prove to me you know their motivation is more than just to bring attention to the wrongs being committed there in Guantanamo.

You are assuming that everyone being held without due process in Guantanamo Bay is actually guilty of something. I cannot make that assumption. There is NO evidence that's true. In fact, nearly 250 people have been quietly released because they were eventually deemed "not a threat to the US or its allies", some after being detained for YEARS without due process.

Blogger BeK Says:

How exactly are you able to determine their motivation? Is there some list of Gitmo "enemy combtants" and evidence that supports that designation that we're not aware of?

I've little doubt that there are definitely people being detained that deserve to be there--but assigning a rationale to the behavior of the entire lot without any proof one way or another (other than being labeled an enemy combatant) is simply staggering.

If that's really what you believe, however, why bother force feeding them? If they're that fanatically devoted to their cause, it's not like they'll be giving us any information--they have to believe that dying as a martyr would be preferrable to betraying their cause. So why not let them? One less enemy combatant, right?

Unless we torture them for the information. But, of course, we don't do that.

Anonymous Dave Says:

If someone doesn't want to eat my tax dollars while I'm illegally holding them in my tax supported (foreign) prison, then I'm inclined to say "Thank you" and let it go at that. If we're going to deprive them of the functional aspect of their lives forever, we may as well just kill them for being enemies of Christendom. Which is, after all, what it boils down to for both sides, isn't it? We're infidels who are going to hell and they're godless heathens who are doomed to hell.

To argue that these prisoners are refusing to eat because they somehow believe that doing so will bring the Muslim revolution, however, seems somewhat silly. They have to know by now that the amount of media exposure they get is miniscule (hell, the amount of exposure they get to due process is scant enough, why worry about media relations) and such a plan depends on having exactly that type of exposure. Not going to happen.

They'd be better off drawing cartoons of Christ on a cross with a lit bomb in his loincloth. Cartoons seem to get people's attention.

Anonymous Dave Says:

I forgot to point out N that you are completely correct, my (administration directed) sarcasm aside.

Blogger Alan Kellogg Says:

With a situation like the one with the Gitmo detainees transparency would be a great thing. Without it the information we need to make an informed decision is just not available.

That said, let us remember that the detainees are there because of what they did, or what they are suspected of doing or of planning to do. Keep in mind that they are not at Gitmo because of criminal charges, but because of an ungoing conflict. France kept German POWs for years after the end of WWII, and it took pressure from the world community to get them to release what amounted to slave labor.

We're now engaged in an open ended conflict. Right or wrong some enemy combatants are deemed dangerous enough to detain indefinitely. Some get released from time to time, but only when it is thought safe to do so.

Does the system have problems? Anything created by humans has problems. Mistakes get made, hopefully the mistakes are acknowledged and corrected.

As to why the hunger strikers are doing it, the only thing I have to go on is what the detainees were involved in, or suspected of being involved in, before their capture. Seeking to kill or injure people, both military or civilian. And/or damage infrastructure in order to bring down the current government in their area of operation. (We are, after all, talking about Afghanistan as well as Iraq.)

You also need to consider their avowed purpose. When it comes to radicals, fanatics, and like ideological critters I find it helpful to take them at their word. You're dealing with ideologues who hold to the position that people have to be told what to do, because people refuse to do what the ideologue thinks is the right thing. Instead of trying to persuade folks they seek to force a change in behavior. Take a look at how the Taliban ran Afghanistan back when they were in charge.

Then too there is the fact anything used by the good guys for their benefit, can and will be used by the bad guys for their benefit. If something can be used to harm people, it will be used to harm people. And anything can be used to harm people.

This is one situation where I'd rather we err on the side of caution.

Anonymous Dave Says:

The problem, Alan, with your argument is that there are laws covering the detention of combatants. The administration wants to claim that a) there's a war going on, b) the Guantanamo detainees are fighting that war, but c) even though they're fighting that war and are fighting against us in that war and are therefore dangerous, they're not entitled to the protections of the law as if they were fighting against us in a war. It has yet to be explained to me why these men are so scary, so dangerous and so much a threat to the United States and the rest of the free world that we can't even treat them with the same decency with which we treated the Japanese and the Germans in WWII or the North Vietnamese in Vietnam or the North Koreans in the Korean conflict. In fact, in at least several instances the government has been forced to admit that some of the people we're holding a) aren't a threat and b) never were a threat. But what the hell, let's hold them anyway.

There's a word for that. It's called hypocracy


Leave a Reply