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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