Monthly Archives: November 2014

Cry Havoc Part 2

Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war


[Part 2 of Two]

The UN Human Rights Commission and the World Medical Association (in its Declaration of Tokyo) have declared that force-feeding of prisoners who are on a hunger strike at Guantanamo is torture. I can’t help suspecting that if force-feeding were discontinued, both those organizations would harshly accuse America of starving its prisoners to death. So would many Americans and foreigners—such is the global “Hate America” syndrome.

In Part 1 of this article (November 18, 2014), I refer to the problems associated with the maintenance, release, and potential repatriation of prisoners. Those stages are cluttered by legal complications exacerbated by an undeclared and continuing war. Even deeper than those complications, are tensions generated beyond the limits of those at standard maximum-security prisons. The additional religious and cultural factors at Guantanamo heat the prison like a pressure cooker. On the ‘outside,’ and depending on an individual’s position in the political spectrum, the prison is described as a five-star hotel or as a Gulag in winter. The international POW agreements rightfully state that the detention of captives must not be punitive. But, I don’t think that force-feeding at Guantanamo qualifies as punitive.

For the sake of argument, I hypothesize that the original scandals at Guantanamo as publicized about a decade ago were much worse than reported. I also hypothesize that all the prisoners at Guantanamo were and still are innocent of any immoral or illegal act and that every account of torture occurred exactly as reported and that all the shameful images of torture and humiliation are authentic.

I also address the claim that force-feeding is torture: Of course it is. That’s true of force-feeding in the best of hospitals and with the full consent of the patient. Force-feeding is ‘natural’ torture. Fighting it makes it worse. [On a personal note, I’ve always thought I’d rather die than go through that procedure even if anesthetized. Well…maybe I would reluctantly agree to it if I were young enough to make the ordeal worthwhile.]

Force-feeding may entertain a sadist, but its purpose at Guantanamo is to prevent prisoners from dying of hunger. That very possible consequence of fasting opens the door to a fundamental moral issue. Although the prisoners may be ‘born into’ or convert to Islam, they are also individuals. Their motives for fighting (and fasting) vary. A few motives are listed below:

  • Guantanamo prisoners are enthusiastically willing to die for their purported devotion to religion, but they are not willing to remain prisoners. Conversely, they purport fidelity to their faith but are not willing to pay the price of their faith, including being force-fed if they choose to strike. In addition to that, the prisoners force their captors to face a dilemma: “Either release me so that I can go on killing innocent people or face the consequences of allowing me to die from starvation.” This, in a venue where several prisoners beg to remain at Guantanamo rather than return to severe torture and death in their home countries.
  • Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Muslim militants worldwide join their ‘religious’ Middle Eastern brethren. I have a strong suspicion that in many instances the real motive for joining the holy war is the excitement it promises and the opportunity to kill Westerners, especially Americans, Jews, and other infidels. Religion is barely (if at all) the basic motivation for a large number of these deadly bullies. When I see them in trucks, shouting threats, brandishing their weapons, and arrogantly aware of news cameras, I see the unmistakable specter of killers having a great time.

Tragically, some men are goaded into fighting a holy war that is waged against infidels. They are captured and find themselves stranded in a world that doesn’t want them. On the other hand, high-ranking Taliban killers are released from Guantanamo prison because of their high value to the Taliban and similar groups.

The hyperbole about force-feeding is sparked by reports and images as though force-feeding is deliberate punitive torture. They also claim that the feedings are rougher than they need be. But how can those feedings be as painless as possible when prisoners violently resist a procedure that requires as much cooperation from the hunger-strike prisoner as possible?

Worldwide protests call for an end to force-feeding and the Pentagon is pressured to allow prisoners to starve to death if they choose to do so. Once again, our military is in a no-win situation. Once again the United States is “damned if does and damned if it doesn’t.”

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Cry Havoc Part 1

Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war


[Part 1 of Two]

The obsession to have the Guantanamo detention facility closed continues. To that effect, an online petition addressed to our President and Congress reads:

I support closing the Guantanamo detention facility and urge you to get the job done today.

The US government is obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Each Guantanamo detainee must either be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or be released to countries that will respect their human rights.

Instead of justice for the September 11 attacks, Guantanamo has given the world torture, indefinite detention and unfair trials.

It is well past time to change course and close the detention facility.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, suppose we check with The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) according to which the 1929, 1949, and 1977 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols collectively state:

(bold italics are quotations from the ICRC)

The status of POW only applies in international armed conflict.

Question: To exactly which nations are religious fighters affiliated?

[The prisoners’] detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the [international] conflict. The prisoners must be released and repatriated after the end of hostilities. [underline mine]

Question: How can the release of prisoners be factored into a religious war that has no borders, freelance leaders, freelance fighters, and is very much still in progress?

Each interned person must be released as soon as the reasons which necessitated his/her internment no longer exist.

The war continues. The reasons for internment are as necessary now as they ever were, if not more so.

Respect for the religious preference of the detainees is an essential aspect of detainee operations…accordingly the detention facility must not be such as to unjustifiably hinder the observance of religious rights…Certain limitations may be necessary due to security concerns; however a good faith balance should be struck between the detainees’ obligations to comply with the disciplinary rules and procedures and the detaining power’s obligation to afford the detainees the ability to meet their religious obligations and exercise their religious practices. [underline mine]

Those words were written by gentlemen and ladies for gentlemen and ladies. But prisons are not known for the gentility of their wardens or of their inmates. A ‘good faith balance’ is incompatible with the mistrust that characterizes prison settings. That stifling atmosphere must be particularly true of the Guantanamo prison population where the fog of war is especially thick.

Media reports of life there are profoundly contradictory. The Internet is packed with text and videos posted from a plethora of sources, including the Pentagon. Sifting through dozens of articles, I visualized two very different prisons: one is a paradise, safe, legal, transparent, and humane; the other is a nightmare, dangerous, illegal, lawless, opaque, and inhumane.

Whatever the case might be, the prison facility itself is neither a paradise nor a nightmare: Yet, in the wake of claims that its prisoners are tortured, millions of people abroad and in the United States avidly call for its closure.

I am not qualified to untangle the legal complications of captured freelance fighters or (more definitively) religious terrorists who are designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ but—to paraphrase Shakespeare—I know that torture, called by any other name, is torture and smells as sour. I also know that inhumanity may be practiced behind walls and locked doors whether a prison is located on a tropical island or in Washington, DC. That’s why there are international Prisoner of War agreements.

Humane or inhumane practices are functions of people, not buildings. The Guantanamo issue is not one of real estate, it’s all about politics. Its decade-long dilemma is basically rooted in the consequences of recidivism (20%) and the unequivocal facts that a) even the most vociferous protesters don’t want the prisoners moved to a prison anywhere near the protester’s home town, b) neither do virtually all appropriate third country nations want the prisoners within their domain, and c) a number of prisoners are genuinely terrified of being repatriated because torture or death awaits them in their home town.

Keeping as firmly as I can within the bounds of uncontroversial facts, I will submit an article, Part 2 of Two for Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war in two weeks, wherein I’ve limited most of my commentary to the very disturbing issue of forced-feeding at Guantanamo Prison.

(to be continued)

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Edge of Apocalypse

Longevity has a way of highlighting the abundance of cyclical events. When I was a schoolboy, a health and hygiene teacher told us the true story of a woman called Typhoid Mary. I was impressed. Typhoid Mary was a cook. She also was a carrier of Typhoid Fever. When it became evident that she was inadvertently serving death along with her delicious dinners, she was tested, found to be a carrier of Typhoid, and was taken (kicking and screaming) to a small island located in New York City’s East River. During her quarantine, she appealed against what was in effect a lifetime sentence. After two years, she was finally released from the quarantine provided that she would never cook for anyone again. She must have been a good cook because many fatalities were credited to her before she closed her kitchen.

If you’re not confused about how to prevent the spread of ebola, then you’re not paying attention to conflicting health reports. Among those reports are those that claim the ebola virus is not contagious unless and until symptoms are apparent, e.g., fever; there are also reports that warn us of what I call sources of “second-hand contagion”, e.g., door knobs or clothing that have been tainted by the bodily fluids of an ebola victim.

When I first heard that ebola is not contagious in the absence of symptoms, I recalled my lifetime experience with the common cold: in my case, a cold always begins with a sore throat. However, there are times when my throat is sore because of an irritation caused by spice in food or chemicals in the air, not by a biological agent. I can’t always determine whether the source of the pain is a chemical irritation or the onset of a cold. If the pain is caused by the former it takes a little time before it disappears; if by the latter, the pain increases until I realize I have a cold. In either case, my judgment about the cause of pain is sometimes initially ambivalent, especially when I’m too busy to take note of minor pain. And then there are times when I wake up to what I immediately know can only be a cold that has taken me by surprise.

Exactly when does a carrier know that he’s been infected with the ebola virus? Don’t we usually think or say, “I think I’m coming down with a cold?” Exactly when does a victim of ebola become aware that she is seriously ill? She may initially dismiss a symptom of ebola as just the result of a common cold or a hot room or that her fatigue is only the result of vigorous exercise.

The Ebola virus is not air-borne, but there is no question that it can easily be transmitted by other means. We can take our chances on not spreading a common cold even when it’s most contagious. However, given the virility and devastating consequences of ebola, the option of chance is not open to us.

The outbreak of ebola has sparked significantly different opinions and actions regarding quarantines as essential for ebola’s containment. Some nations have banned flights coming out of affected nations in West Africa; the United States has not done so. The argument for not doing so is that the epidemic requires high technology to stem it. It follows that a ban on air traffic would be counterproductive to the containment of ebola. Those who oppose a ban, propose that limited, carefully monitored flights would eliminate the danger of contagion. In addition to the false premise that there is a substantive difference between limited and regular air traffic when dealing with a deadly virus, this suggestion specifies that air traffic should be limited to a few of our major cities. I’m not a demographic logician, but it seems to me that New York City is the last place on earth to land aircraft potentially carrying the ebola virus. It takes only one overlooked detail to put millions of people at risk.

Upon her return from Sierra Leone where she voluntarily treated ebola patients for a month, a nurse was immediately quarantined in New Jersey. Later moved to her home in Maine, she was to remain under quarantine by order of the Governor of Maine. She strongly objected to the quarantine, twice violated the state mandate that she remain under it until the ebola incubation period was to expire, and fought for and obtained her release from isolation by a judge who agreed with her contention that she was healthy and that there was no scientific justification for her isolation. When she was free, she fully adhered to the order that she maintain direct active monitoring, avoid crowds, and stay at least three feet away from individuals until the original quarantine period was satisfied.

Her outspoken anger over being unnecessarily quarantined gave the appearance that she simply didn’t want to be inconvenienced by being under quarantine. It appeared that she was not the same person who had the will, generosity, and courage to treat ebola victims in Sierra Leone where her patients’ bodily fluids were extremely contagious. Having made her statement that the ebola virus is not air-borne, she rode her bicycle into the countryside on her first day of freedom.

At the national level, our Secretary of State, in agreement with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, imposed quarantine on a dozen soldiers who had been constructing health facilities in Sierra Leone. He had the right to do so based on the fact that soldiers are not volunteers. I’m sure he made the right decision. As of this writing they are under quarantine at a base in Italy.

There are concerns that medical personnel are less likely to volunteer their services if it entails quarantine in addition to the courage and selflessness required to treat ebola victims. There are also concerns about Federalism vs. States Rights as demonstrated by the Maine event. (No problem there. In the unlikely event that an epidemic hits America, health concerns will trump the Constitutiontemporarily, of course.) My concern is that major health decisions are being ‘politisized.’ For example, there are powerful politicians with a romper room mentality who posit that as a matter of fairness (!) we must not ban air traffic from the afflicted West African nations because the ancestors of West Africans suffered slavery in America. That racist nonsense is spewed at a time when containing the deadly disease is of the utmost urgency. Urgency and panic are not the same: there’s never a need for panic, but there’s always a need for reason.

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