The Guardian has published a harrowing video. This video depicts what it’s like to be one of the over a hundred prisoners inside Guantanamo Bay on hunger strikes who are being forcibly fed to keep them alive.
We know the facts: there are 166 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. More than half of them have been cleared to be released, yet they are caught in a Kafka-esque condition in which American and international political bureaucracy keeps them from being released. This list includes: 26 Yemenis, 12 Afghans, 3 Saudis, 2 Kuwaitis, 2 Libyans, a Kenyan, a Moroccan, and a Somali.
About 120 of these prisoners are on hunger strike, because it is the only way they have left to let the world know of their plight. So the prisoners have attempted to take the one measure of dignity they should have left to publicize their plight: refuse to be fed solid food. Hunger strikes are a last-resort and time-honored method for political prisoners around the world, from Gandhi to the suffragettes movement in the United States to the Irish. 44 of them are being force-fed against their wish.
The political prisoners have written an open letter to their doctors, expressing their reasons for refusing solid food as part of their political protest.
The answer of the United States government has been unfathomable: rather than working to resolve this standoff and release the prisoners, we have chosen to strap down prisoners using handcuffs and restraint chairs, and have ill-qualified doctors insert tubes down their bodies to have them be force-fed.
In some cases the tubes are being transferred from prisoner to prisoner without having them be cleaned. Some of the tubes are too large, causing unbearable pain for these prisoners.
So what is it like to be force-fed?
The rapper/actor Mos Def (who now goes by Yasiin Bey) agreed to have these tubes inserted down his nose, and have it be video-taped to publicize the experience of the Guantanamo prisoners. This was a one-time take.
The British paper Guardian published the video.
It is disturbing, but has to be seen.
No one was paid for this. Nor was this a grotesque reality TV stunt. As the director stated, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) is a strong, healthy young man who found the experience of being force-fed unbearably painful. One can only imagine what it must be like for the emaciated political prisoners who have lost 30-40-50 pounds under the circumstances in Guantanamo.
This was an act to do what the American media has so far failed to do: publicize one of the great political, ethical, and legal crimes of the last decade, shed light on practices that the United States has stashed away in maximum security islands in a no-man’s land that is designed to escape legal and political scrutiny.
“Physicians at Guantánamo cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations. Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault.”
What do the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay about their own experience? Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel said in the New York Times:
“Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.”
Samir has been held at Guantanamo Bay for over 11 years. He has never been charged with a crime, and has never received a trial. It is the experience of men like Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel that makes a complete mockery of the United States’ claim to be a beacon of democracy in the world today.
A democracy is measured not by how it conducts itself in its political showcases, but rather by how the most marginalized people in society are treated. And right now the way that the United States is force-feeding political prisoners held indefinitely, uncharged, cleared, and unreleased is a mockery of human rights, decency, and democracy. It is the responsibility of journalism to shed light precisely on such places, and to expose and educate.
WARNING: Some viewers may find these images distressing.
Watch the video from the Guardian. This is what our government does twice every day, to dozens of political prisoners. This has to end. Today. The political prisoners who have been cleared must released immediately. The prisoners deserve that, and the fate of our democratic experiment deserves that.
The Guardian prefaces the video by stating: “Warning: some viewers may find these images distressing.”
Actually, it’s not the images that are distressing. It is the current fate of our democracy that should be distressing to all of us.