Can Obama Handle the Truth on Guantanamo?
The man's not sure how to handle trouble — and more is on the way. History's coming to call on Guantanamo.
It's not Barack Obama's week, month or even his year. Headlines on Benghazi, IRS tea parties and government spying on the press fill the fresh spring air. Nobody, friend or foe, is happy with the way the White House is handling trouble.
But there's a deeper darkness falling. One hundred captives in military custody are on a hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay Navy Base in Cuba. It may be a final despair at dehumanizing circumstances. We only know because of a few good reporters who won't let the story go.
Thirty of those captives are force-fed by medics using shackles, restraints and tubes snaked through the nose. This is the torture Alice Paul and other suffragettes endured a century ago, with President Woodrow Wilson's knowledge. Back then, public outrage grew at nonviolent resisters being treated so brutally.
President Obama said, "I don't want these individuals to die." Yes, it would be bad for the September 11th tale to close with captives dying in the dark, without a day in court. In fact, half of the Guantanamo detainees are cleared for transfer or resettlement by a federal task force. Observers say they're legally good to go.
With the hunger strike, Obama faces an ethics quandary. Human rights groups and the American Medical Association oppose the practice of force-feeding captives. They think it's inhumane, that people deserve the right to starve and die. The International Committee of the Red Cross shares this view. Several such organizations are writing to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to urge an end to the practice.
Obama said the right things at a recent press conference. He'd like to close the jail, to be rid of the festering problem. So what is he waiting for? Nothing has happened since that fine statement.
By now, it's appropriate to have a point person in place to review and transfer one detainee at a time, relying on the work done by federal agencies, including the CIA, and the State and Justice departments. Only three of the 166 detainees were convicted by a war court.
If the rest are prisoners of war, well, the long George W. Bush wars are over. The Global War on Terror ended, but not for them.
Nearly all hunger strikers are living on lockdown, enough to make you mad. I know, because I once got arrested trying to report a story and spent a night in the Baltimore city women's jail. Nothing as lonely as your own company in a confined, small space.
One dedicated reporter on the Guantanamo beat, Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald, has travelled to Cuba for years. We spoke yesterday, and I gleaned how hard it is to keep this story alive — even as detainees wish for death. She noted a detail about life on the base that people find surprising: There's a McDonald's, for the mix of civilian workers, soldiers, sailors and their families. So they will never go hungry.
As for the president, the truth is governing takes confrontation, which he hates. Republicans in Congress are stone deaf to his lyrical words. Closing the base in Cuba — and winning a partisan brawl — is the best thing Obama could do for history and his political clout. People need to know he means what he says.
We'll soon see whether he can handle the truth.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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