The ongoing hunger strike by detainees at the Guantanamo detention camp is doing exactly what a non-violent protest is intended to do: call attention to the plight and grievances of those who feel they are being treated unjustly.It has focused the worlds attention on an untenable situation in which this countrys government is on the receiving end of human rights violation charges. No longer are these prisoners, termed enemy combatants, out of sight/out of mind; they are the subject of an international discussion.Of the 161 inmates being held in the Cuban facility, about 100 are participating in the hunger strike, five have been hospitalized and 23 are being force-fed by having feeding tubes placed through their noses, down their throats and into their stomachs while being restrained in a chair. Added medical help has been sent to the island to monitor the situation.Keep in mind that only nine of the detainees have been charged with a crime, and 86 have been cleared for transfer or release, according to Reuters news service.Last month, President Obama, in calling again for Guantanamos closing, said it is an unsustainable situation, and he referred to prisoners being kept in a no-mans land in perpetuity.It is bad enough that most of these people are being held without charges or the hope of ever having a day in court, but the forced feedings add an unsavory dimension to an operation that never should have been allowed to exist this long.In addition to some human rights groups, the American Medical Association has weighed in, noting that the forced feeding violates core ethical values of the medical profession.Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, AMA president, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that patients who are competent have the right to refuse medical intervention.As reported in The Miami Herald, the letter stated that, The AMA has long endorsed the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which is unequivocal on the point: Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. Guantanamo officials, and no doubt some in the administration, dont want to see a prisoner die there, fearing it would become a public relations nightmare and one more marketing tool for terrorist groups.Well, lets do the right thing: Close Guantanamo.The Bush administration established the prison outside the United States and presumably outside the American justice system to house captives of the War on Terror. Officials at the time argued that to keep Americans safe it was necessary to hold these dangerous combatants off American soil.Members of Congress continue to make that argument as they vow to block any attempt to close the prison and to prevent the president from ordering detainees transferred to U.S. prisons.President Obama promised during his first campaign that he would close Guantanamo, and shortly after his inauguration, he signed an order to do that. But the Senate voted not to approve funding necessary to transfer or release prisoners held there.Part of the dilemma of releasing many of the detainees to their native countries is that those countries dont want them.Im convinced this administration has not tried hard enough to find a solution to that part of the puzzle, and it has been too complacent about finding a way to bring other detainees to facilities within the United States.How does housing an additional 100 or so prisoners in our massive system jeopardize the safety of the American people? The situation will continue to damage this countrys standing in the world, as the president has said, calling Guantanamo contrary to who we are. Mr. President, if you really believe it should be closed, shut it down.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders