Hunger strikes and renovations at Guantanamo Bay

Kevin JensenOne of the most notable — and most often repeated — campaign promises that President Obama has failed to follow through on is his vow to close Guantanamo Bay, in effect restoring our country’s tradition of habeus corpus and our moral standing in the world with regards to human rights.

Yet, despite his promises to close Guantanamo on his first day of office, more than four years later this black mark on the American conscience remains.

Obama did sign an executive order shortly after he was sworn in that required the Guantanamo prison to be closed within a year, but that order has had little progress due to provisions of a defense bill that Obama signed that prohibit the use of federal money to transfer Guantanamo prisoners anywhere.

The prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, however, are tired of waiting, and are conducting a hunger strike, in “a collective act of despair,” The New York Times writes. “Prisoners on the hunger strike say that they would rather die than remain in the purgatory of indefinite detention.”

While the government claims that 40 prisoners are taking part, lawyers for detainees say that around 130 people in one part of the prison have taken part in the hunger strike, refusing to consume anything but water, with some losing up to 30 pounds in the process. The government is force feeding at least 10 of the hunger strikers.

This isn’t the first hunger strike the prison has seen. Some say this strike was initially inspired by the practice of conducting searches of Qurans, but last month at a Congressional hearing Gen. John Kelly, the Marine Corps commander who oversees Guantanamo, pointed to a more fundamental reason for the hunger strike.

“They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed” when Obama was elected, Kelly said. “They were devastated when the president backed off — at least their perception — of closing the facility.”

Perhaps one of the greatest injustices of all is that only three prisoners that are at Guantanamo have been found guilty of any crime, and yet over a hundred still sit in our Cuban prison base, with many having still not seen a trial of any kind.

In fact, of the 166 men still held at Guantanamo, even the 86 detainees that were approved for release by a government task force three years ago have yet to live a day as a free man.

Nine men have died at Guantanamo. Four of them have died under Obama — the most recent being Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who was repeatedly cleared for transfer after a 2010 court ruling ordered his release due to lack of evidence that he had committed any crime.

Last Friday, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, saying “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law.”

“I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. Government has not been able to close Guantanamo Bay, despite repeatedly committing itself to do so,” Pillay said, recalling how warmly she welcomed Obama’s announcement four years ago immediately after his inauguration that closing Guantanamo and creating a system to safeguard the fundamental rights of detainees would be a top priority.

“Nevertheless, this systemic abuse of individuals’ human rights continues year after year,” Pillay said. “We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold.”

Guantanamo Bay should be closed immediately.

The prisoners who have been cleared for release should be released, and the three who have been convicted and the 30 who are subjects of active investigations should be transferred to a military prison.

The other 50 or so detainees that are considered to be too dangerous to release and too difficult to prosecute should have their cases reviewed and resolved according to the rule of law rather than be left in the legal limbo of indefinite detention.

Obama is doing none of this — in fact, he might be doing the opposite.

Currently, the Obama administration is considering a proposal for Guantanamo Bay to receive renovations to the tune of $195.7 million of taxpayer money, after Gen. Kelly testified that with no end to the prison’s operation in sight, repairs and upgrades are needed.

But the idea of spending close to $200 million dollars renovating a prison that our Commander in Chief vowed to close over four years ago is abhorrent.

America can never again be that shining example of freedom and human rights to the world as long as our closet is filled with the emaciated skeletons of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Content Managing Editor Kevin R. Jensen is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at  kjensen@collegian.com or on Twitter @kevinrjensen.