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Elliott Adams: Why I Fast with the Guantanamo Prisoners

Guantanamo is wrong morally and by all religions, by international law and by US law. It violates the Magna Carta, Common Law (the basis of our law), the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, the Convention Against Torture, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also is an affront to what our founding fathers set out in the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the dream and image of American as a place of justice, the things I grew up being told the US flag stood for, and even national security. How have we gotten to this low point?

Elliott speaking 2009 DSC02211

In Guantanamo detainees have given up hope of ever getting out, so much so that they see death by hunger strike as the only way out of their hell. And why wouldn’t they? Many of them were sold to the US with no incriminating evidence except on the say-so of the person who wanted the bounty. They have rotted in not a prison, but in a torture camp, for 10 years and more without any charges and no way to prove their innocence. Finally after all these years the US government cleared 86 of them for release. That means that five departments (Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Security, and Joint Chiefs of Staff) have all said they have no charges they can file against these detainees. So these 86 will never be charged with anything and in addition all these government agencies have certified that none of these 86 present a security risk.

That was one year ago and the only thing that has changed is new restrictions on how detainee’s lawyers can contact them. Attorneys can no longer speak to their clients by phone they must go to Guantanamo and each visit causes a new indignity, an invasive search of the detainee, one which violates their religious principles, so many are no longer seeing their lawyers. Is it a wonder that these innocent people despair of any escape? Is it a wonder that over 100 of the 166 detainees are on hunger strike?

In answer to the desperation of the hunger strike, the Guantanamo guards administer yet another torture, force-feeding. The detainee is strapped to a chair by his head, legs and arms, and a tube is forced up his nose and down through his throat into his stomach. One detainee has described it as feeling like a razor blade cutting its way through his nose and down his throat to his stomach. Another said it was the most incredible pain he has ever felt. When force-feeding is completed the detainee is thrown into a “dry cell” for observation to see if he vomits, and if so the process is repeated again. International Law, the American Medical Association and the World Medical Association all say this practice is torture.

And what is happening in many prisons in the US is also torture. Prisoners are being thrown into solitary confinement for 10 years and longer based solely an unsubstantiated statement by another prisoner. The UN Rapporteur on Torture says that over 15 days of solitary confinement causes permanent damage and is torture. What has happened to us as a country?

Late at night I can hear their desperation and their pain, it is not a sound, it vibrates though my body. At some point each one of us have to ask ourselves how long we will look the other way, turning away from what is being done in our name and being paid for by us. I can no longer listen to their cries. I have to do something just to preserve my own integrity. If I do nothing, what kind of a person would I be? So I fast.

We can end this terrible travesty of our values, but it will take a broad-spectrum critical mass that includes Christians, Muslims and Jews, Democrats and Republicans, leftists and conservatives. This is an affront to what all of us believe in. I beg you to join the effort to get the prisoners out of Guantanamo and shut that place down. Fast if it feels right for you, call your congressman, sign the petitions, they are all good. But I need you, the prisoners need you, indeed our nation needs you to educate yourself about this travesty so you can be a spokesperson for the simple decency, for the basic humanity that you believe in. You may reach out based on your religious beliefs, or based on the law, or based on labor principles, or based on what you believe the American values are. You can talk to one person or a hundred, you can twitter, or facebook, or organize actions, but please reach out to everyone and anyone everywhere and anywhere.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said- “These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”

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