The hunger strike by prisoners at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a black eye for the United States that must be remedied.
Guantanamo has 166 foreign prisoners, some of whom have been held for longer than 11 years without trial. Eighty-four are on a hunger strike, most of them since February.
Sixteen prisoners are being force-fed to prevent them from dying from weight loss and other conditions. Nearly 40 Navy nurses, corpsmen, and specialists were dispatched to the prison this week.
Altogether, 86 prisoners have been cleared for release. But neither their home countries nor any other will take them, so they stay at Guantanamo.
President Obama promised to close the prison as one of the first acts of his administration. He reiterated that pledge this week. But Congress has blocked him from doing so, by among other things banning the transport of any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for trial or release.
The strikers object to their legal handling and their living circumstances. They claim that their military jailers are disrespectful of the Qur’an.
Last month, military guards who were concerned about the strikers’ resistance to discipline went into the detention facility. They now keep the strikers, most of the time, in solitary confinement in 8-by-12-foot cells.
Like other issues that have reached gridlock between the U.S. executive and legislative branches, this situation is not getting better. Holding prisoners for years without trial is so inconsistent with American principles of justice as to be shameful to a country that prides itself on the rule of law.
Guantanamo robs the United States of its moral standing in global forums to condemn unlawful acts and rights violations. The response of countries with histories of repression, such as Myanmar, Sudan, and Zimbabwe to such charges by the United States would correctly be: Physician, heal thyself.