80% of Gitmo Prisoners on Hunger Strike for 100 Days

Jessica Desvarieux Jessica Desvarieux, Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network, reports on the hunger strike at Guantanamo.

Since Obama plans to give a speech on Guantanamo (and drones) this coming Thursday, this video provides useful background.


[OBAMA:] I think it’s critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.

Here’s a fact that Obama, hilariously, omits to mention. Colonel Morris Davis, the former Guantanamo Chief Prosecutor:

[DAVIS:] 86 have had the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, sit down and unanimously agree that they didn’t commit a crime, we’re not going to charge them with anything, they don’t pose an imminent threat, and we don’t want to keep ’em. And so we’ve got a majority, 86 of the 166 that have been there year after year after year, after being cleared to be transferred out, that we’re paying eight or nine hundred thousand dollars a year per person to keep them sitting there in Guantanomo because of their citizenship. So we’re wasting over $75 million dollars a year [It’s not the money! –lambert] to put people in prison that we don’t want to imprison.

I can think of only one reason for the omission: Obama thinks it’s OK to keep people in detention facilities even if they’ve been cleared.* But he stays silent about that, because get people talking about arbitrary detention, you might have to give it up, and who wants that?

I’ll close with this from Diane Wilson, who’s been on a water-only hunger strike in solidarity with the detainees since May 1:

[WILSON:] These men are that desperate. And I’ve done hunger strikes before, so I know how you do it at the last resort. It is not just a whim to do a hunger strike. …

I do know there were quite a few young people. You know, like some of them were 12. Some of them were all the way up to 15. It sickens me that the war on terror, the fear that is engrained in the conscious of the American people right now. They have no problem about washing Guantanamo away, out of sight and out of mind.

Fasting is Method #159 of Gene Sharp’s 198 Methods of Non-Violent Protest and Persuasion. To my knowledge, we didn’t see this method used in the Arab Spring, or in the indignados movement, in the Capitol occupations, or in Occupy. So far, it seems to have been effective for the detainees. At least Obama’s going to give a speech!

NOTE * I believe the Bourbon kings called this power a lettre de cachet.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. from Mexico

      That’s what the San Francisco Pride board wants to do. They’re the house queers who want to turn the rest of us into a bunch of field queers.

      It might be helpful to place the current imbroglio over Bradley Manning, and the anti-militarism and anti-corporatism with which he has become synonymous with, into its historical context.

      The LGBT movement grew out of and was part of the Civil Rights Movement, and therefore came to share a common ethos with it. One of the major fault lines that split the black community at that was between the assimilationists and the separatists.

      Martin Luther King often said he stood “in the middle” of these “two opposing forces.” “One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who…have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of ‘somebodiness’ that they have adjusted to segregation, and, of a few negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security…have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses,” King wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail. “The other force,” he continued, “is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement.”

      Despite attempting to stake out this middle ground, King was nevertheless often placed in the assimilationist camp by the separatists, and the debate between him and the separatists became quite acrimonious at times, as this video demonstrates:


      Oddly enough, Reinhold Niebuhr, the most famous white American protestant theologian of the time, when it came to the dispute over means — violent vs. nonviolent — was more in Malcolm X’s camp than King’s. Niebuhr, as King wrote in “My pilgrimage to nonviolence,” had “began emphasizing the irresponsibility of relying on nonviolent resistance when there was not ground for believing it would be successful.” As King went on to explain: “It could only be successful, he argued, if the groups against whom the resistance was taking place had some degree of moral conscience.” “I came to see more and more the shortcomings of his position,” King goes on to criticize Niebuhr’s stance, since “many of his statements revealed that he interpreted pacifism as a sort of passive nonresistance to evil expressing naïve trust in the power of love…. But this was a serious distortion. My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil.” We see King repeat these same arguments in his disagreement with Malcolm X.

      By the 1960s, the dominant culture in the United States had allowed various ethnic groups to assimilate (e.g., Italians, Germans, Irish, etc. ), but blacks, as well as Latinos and other brown-skinned people, and those LGBTs who couldn’t pass for heterosexual, were excluded from assimilation. King could therefore be heard to say that “The American racial revolution has been a revolution to ‘get in’ rather than to overthrow.” (Ebony, October 1966)

      But there was another Martin Luther King, the one who was heard to question: “Get into what?”

      Lawrence Goodwyn , In “The Populist Moment,” sums up post-1896 America as follows:

      “Today, the values and the sheer power of corporate America pinch in the horizons of millions of obsequious corporate employees, tower over every American legislature, state and national, determine the modes and style of mass communications and mass education, fashion American foreign policy around the globe, and shape the rules of the American political process itself. Self-evidently, corporate values define modern American culture.”

      And it was this corporate state I believe King finally came to realize he had aspired to “get in.”

      Towards the end of his life, King concluded that the price necessary to “get in” – complete surrender to and ideological conformity with the corporate state — was a price too high to pay. It was just a bridge too far. King announced his fateful decision to break with the corporate state with his “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam” sermon.

      In Part 5, the “The Soul of a Nation” episode of the PBS series God in America, we find a masterful portrayal of this watershed moment:

      Rev. RANDALL BALMER: What I find remarkable about Martin Luther King is that he was willing to cooperate with politicians, most significantly with Lyndon Johnson. And yet King was able to maintain his distance, his prophetic distance, from power and from the lures of power.

      NARRATOR: King put his relationship with Johnson at risk, directly confronting the president on Vietnam.

      Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: -to oppose that abominable, evil, unjust war in Vietnam!

      RICHARD LISCHER: It’s one thing to be a popular prophet or an inside prophet, where you have instant access to the halls of power, you can have lunch or tea with Lyndon Baines Johnson whenever it’s convenient. But in his opposition to the war in Vietnam, he became an outside prophet, like Jeremiah throwing pebbles from the outside.

      Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You are too arrogant, and if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power!”

      RICHARD LISCHER: He knowingly and willingly burnt his bridges to the source of power in the United States. And he did so because, as he said, “I am a minister of the gospel, and I must tell that truth.”

      Rev. RANDALL BALMER, Barnard College/Columbia University: And I take that as an illustration of King’s ability to use the political system, but not to allow himself or to allow the faith to become co-opted by politicians, to become corrupted by access to the councils of power.

      NARRATOR: By the end of his life, Martin Luther King had fully embraced his role as political outsider and uncompromising American prophet.

      Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind.

      RICHARD LISCHER: He had never spoken with such power and never articulated this vision with such a depth of feeling as he did on the night before he died.

      Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land!

      ANDREW YOUNG: His death was not the end, and his words and his spirit have moved all across the earth. It points to the fact that this is a religious universe. Most people, particularly most educated Americans, get uncomfortable when their emotions and their spirituality get the best of their intellect. But there are times when intellect can’t handle it.

      The truly religious moments in our Civil Rights movement didn’t make any intellectual sense. Nobody in their right mind would do some of the things that we did, but we did it because we were caught up in a spirit.


      1. Doug Terpstra

        Great commentary relating to the moral issues of our time. How Orwellian and deeply shameful it is that Obama presumes any claim to the mantle of Reverend Martin Luther King.

  1. skippy

    Ironically, solitary confinement had been conceived by the Quakers and Anglicans as humane reform of a penal system with overcrowded jails, squalid conditions, brutal labor chain gangs, stockades, public humiliation, and systemic hopelessness. Instead, it drove many men mad.

    The Auburn system, conversely, gave birth to America’s first maximum-security prison, known as Sing Sing. Built on the Hudson River 30 miles north of New York City, it spawned the phrase “sent up the river,” meaning doomed. Although far different from Walnut Street, Eastern State, and Auburn, in that inmates were permitted to speak to one another, in many ways it was the most brutal prison ever built. Various means of torture—being strung upside down with arms and legs trussed, or fitted with a bowl at the neck and having it gradually filled with dripping water from a tank above until the mouth and nose were submerged—replaced isolation and silence. Sing Sing also held the distinction of being home to America’s first electric chair.

    Europe’s eyes were on the curious competing theories at Sing Sing and Eastern State. A celebrity at the time, Charles Dickens visited Eastern State to have a look for himself at this radical new social invention. Rather than impressed, he was shocked at the state of the sensory-deprived, ashen inmates with wild eyes he observed. He wrote that they were “dead to everything but torturing anxieties and horrible despair…The first man…answered…with a strange kind of pause…fell into a strange stare as if he had forgotten something…” Of another prisoner, Dickens wrote, “Why does he stare at his hands and pick the flesh open…and raise his eyes for an instant…to those bare walls?”

    “The system here, is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement,” Dickens concluded. “I believe it…to be cruel and wrong…I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

    In the late 1800s, the Supreme Court of the United States began looking at growing clinical evidence emanating from Europe that showed that the psychological effects of solitary were in fact dire. In Germany, which had emulated the isolationist Pennsylvania model, doctors had documented a spike in psychosis among inmates. In 1890, the High Court condemned the use of long-term solitary confinement, noting “a considerable number of prisoners…fell into a semi-fatuous condition…and others became violently insane.”


    skippy… same shite … different day thingy…

    1. skippy

      I can see this observation has gone down like the proverbial lead balloon…

      skippy… me wonders why…

      1. Doug Terpstra

        Au contraire, mon ami Skippy. The lack of response means most of are nodding vigorously and left slack-jawed with nothing to add.

        Your fascinating comment also lands in a depressing post that Lambert inflicted on us, one that tends to evoke impotent rage in those of us that are not from Mexico.

        If only the US had started as a prison colony like Down-Under, rather than a slaver’s paradise, things might be better for the peasantry. The Dickensian conditions you describe will no doubt grow worse as corporate debtors prisons and outsourced gulags are increasingly financialized — human warehousing for profit. Rehab? Ha!

        1. skippy

          Ta Doug.

          If we can’t resolve ourselves to look at the mistakes of the past and internalize them honestly and objectively… what are we… whats the difference between the filth that has commandeered all life on this orb and the rest of us.

          skippy… where should the line of distinction be the most contrasting… eh.

  2. banger

    Guantanamo came to be in order to be populated by someone and anyone. Officials wanted to make a public statement that the United States was through “playing nice” and would conduct, in a public way, torture, arbitrary imprisonment and extra-judicial murder. This was explained by neo-conservative writers who said that the U.S. should be feared not loves and should act “crazy” in order to scare-off potential enemies.

    As everyone should know, Guantanamo detainees are just bodies of likely suspects that fit a demographic that were almost randomly selected mainly by bounty-hunters who were give bounties by the U.S. military authorities after the conquest of Afghanistan to provide bodies no question asked. Some were known to be Al-qaida and connected to various out of favor groups but whatever the situation guilt or innocence was not the point–they just wanted bodies to be shown in chains.

  3. Mr. Jack M. Hoff

    Oh Mr. Obama; I noticed your comments on why you’ld like to shut down your hell-hole Guantanamo. You think this hurts our international standing, do you? Why you poor little thin skinned bastard, what do you think people around the world think of your “Terror Tuesdays”? I also noticed that you didn’t give as a reason for shutting your hell-hole down the obvious reason that its morally bankrupt and was totally wrong from the start. Human life and dignity don’t really mean a damned thing to you, or the pigs you wallow with, do they?

  4. Sarah Jones

    America’s stateside gulags are overflowing, it’s no joke, and entirely taboo for most establishment DC blow bags to mention. But Greenwald and others do write about it, and there’s hope that draconian systems of social control will be wrestled away from the money changers. Git bay was built to produce fear, another dreadful international marketing effort. No one puts up any resistance because they don’t know how. In a town near you, with a snarling prosecutor pulling on his state issued leash, slamming lives into ruin before a wizened old careerist.

  5. washunate

    They can’t say we didn’t know.

    Until we fix the rule of law, all this blathering about monetary policy and helicopters and trillion dollar coins and Evil Austerity and all the rest is meaningless jibberish. The psychopaths are in charge.

  6. Rich R

    Let’s just say that Mr. Obama knows that those being held illegally in Guantanomo are PISSED (and rightly so) !!! And that at least one will try to express their vengenance as quickly, and as violently as possible once released.

    Mr. Obama just doesn’t want that to happen on his watch…he’s saving that as gift for his successor.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Obama doesn’t think like along those lines. Obama is about Obama. This is his defining characteristic. Obama is worried about a tell all book becoming an international bestseller and tarnishing his image.

      Foreign governments might find that voters don’t want to have such cozy relations with the U.S. especially with Russia as a potential arms supplier. Look at Germany’s attacks on “lazy Europeans.” Its a last ditch election effort, but other countries will throw the U.S. out if they think association with the U.S. threatens their government. Look at Iraq. They decided letting the civil war start would be preferable to not prosecuting U.S. soldiers for various crimes. This is if I’m giving Obama credit for not being a garden variety token Democratic member of the local Chamber of Commerce. He’s probably more worried about his name being associated with torture and celebrities wanting to be seen with him.

      Retaliation isn’t on his mind, or the crook never would have gone into Libya, doubled down in Afghanistan, or launched his unending drone war. Those are young populations. For every 25 year old killed, he has three little brothers who are seething. Obama wouldn’t be alone about not grasping this. Its amazing how many people don’t grasp the “symbology” (I can’t help it. I love that movie) of the targets of the 9/11 attacks.

  7. Doug Terpstra

    “[It’s not the money!]” Whew! Thank you, Lambert!

    To war criminal Obama, this is strictly about relativistic pragmatism and nothing else — Gitmo is only inefficient, expensive, embarrassing, impractical and counterproductive. No mention of its “unpleasantness”!

    WTF? Is this monster really incapable of grasping even the most basic self-evident truths — that Gitmo, like the entire US gulag archipelago is grievously immoral, grotesquely cruel, horrifically inhumane, and a red-letter crime under US and international law? And while conveniently forgetting that he promised to close this gulag years ago, he expresses not one iota of empathy for the complete and utter destruction of innocent human beings.

    That such a despicable mass-murderer fancies himself an hier of MLK is viscerally repugnant. May he and all his enablers pay the ultimate price when the inevitable blowback finally arrives.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The simple answer is yes. My guess is he isn’t bothered except when someone gets through the bubble and that is only to find a way to get the issue out of his world so he can go back to being a cool dude.

      I do think Obama is the perfect President for a shallow, image obsessed culture. Drones are perfect because they allow “serious people” to be bipartisan by having the war and not putting boots on the ground. They hail it as a “smart war,” and like so many others, whine when consequences which were easily predictable (such as appointing a Republican to run the Fed) happen.

    2. jrs

      It’s not the money it’s the system of control (yes by means of totalitarian police state measures when necessary). But maybe that’s really ultimately about the money too, I don’t know. Noone is sure why exactly they have chosen a police state – just a police state we will get.

      And yes it’s a violation of international law, that really can’t be empthasized enough.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        The police state is easier at least in the short term. Its easier to give the police more powers to solve problem X than it is to address problems. If Big Brother is taking care of the problems, I don’t need to worry about them because the bad guys are being handled.

        Look at the praise of our military from “listen to our generals on the ground” and “the best and brightest of what America has to offer.” Its easy to say and absolve ourselves of responsibility, but I remember the kids who joined the army from my old high school. The only one I would trust with any responsibility only joined after becoming a raging alcoholic in college or after he left school. Kids who go to West Point go for a career in marching or soldering. They may get a clue when they are there, but America’s officer corp, especially ones developed in peace time such as our current brass*, was self-selected by people who joined with the expectation of getting into a fight. If you start to think about the nature of the army’s character, one has to think about rethinking the status of the army (size/capabilities) or one’s involvement or lack of involvement in the military. Its easier to put a yellow ribbon sticker on a crummy car.

        *War time officer corps tend to get rid of some of the more unfit characters after a time. Sam Grant went from a drunk drummed out of the army to big kahuna in a short time for a reason. The peace time army could afford twits, and the war time army cycled through the twits fairly quickly.

  8. Optimader

    Maintaining the moral highground while winning hearts and minds the old fashoned way

  9. ess emm

    1. 86 prisoners are cleared for release, 56 are Yemenis. My understanding is Obama wont release the latter because they would, of course, be returned to Yemen. Because Obama lost his S after Abdulmutallab’s failed undiebombing on Christmas Day 2009 there is a self-imposed moratorium on returning them to Yemen. The USG doesnt think the Yemeni govt can be trusted to keep track of innocent people. But now, even Feinstein, who said in 2009 they couldnt be released, thinks they should be released.

    2. Force feeding is torture.

    3. If Obama does close Guantanamo he’ll STILL use another site just like it, (Bagram or some hellhole in Egypt or Libya) to imprison people indefinitely, without charge.

    4. Carol Rosenberg, Kevin Gosztola, Jim White, and of course Marcy Wheeler have covered this story quite well.

    The National Security State will destroy democracy.

  10. Lifetime Website Traffic

    After looking over a number of the blog articles on your site,
    I honestly like your way of blogging. I saved it to my bookmark
    webpage list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site too and let me know how you feel.

Comments are closed.