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9/11 suspects on hunger strike at Gitmo -- Oh the Humanity!

“Oh, the Humanity!”

So went the famous phrase shouted by Chicago’s WLS Radio announcer Herb Morrison as he witnessed the Hindenburg crash and burn in Lakehurst, N.J. on May 6, 1937.

Though the death of three-dozen Germans and Americans in the fiery explosion 75 years ago is a far cry from the “plight” of 9/11 suspects at Gitmo, at least two of Al Qaeda’s top operatives are trying to evoke similar emotions as they have gone on a hunger strike to garner sympathy for their cause. But curiously, press coverage has been sparse unlike in years past.

In a place where the Obama administration just forked over $750,000 to pay for a detainee soccer field overlooking the Caribbean, they’re served 3 halal meals a day, some of them watch Middle Eastern television via satellite while others play basketball or spend time with their Nintendo Wii’s, what could they possibly be complaining about anyway?

It turns out that they apparently don’t like the new rules imposed by Navy Rear Admiral David Woods who currently oversees Joint Task Force Guantanamo, as he has rightly tightened up the screening process of legal mail between detainees and their attorneys.

It seems that Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine almost made it in the camps, complete with articles like “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

The stricter requirements for screening legal mail has set off a firestorm between military commission defense attorneys, backed by the American Bar Association, and military authorities from Gitmo all the way up to the Pentagon who are responsible for good order and discipline within the camps. 

The two hunger strikers are just playing their part in trying to leverage this tempest in a teapot for maximum public sympathy.

And while they have been on hunger strike, reportedly since January when the new rules were implemented, something is different than during previous similar periods of “voluntary fasting.” 

During the Bush administration, hunger strikes were quite common. And they garnered significant attention from non-governmental organizations and the mainstream media to prove it. 

While dozens of detainees conveniently skipped some meals here and there, at least a few were hardcore, and determined to starve to death. Recalling lessons from Northern Ireland, where IRA member Bobby Sands withered away in the Maze Prison and went from zero to hero in 1981, the military wisely instituted a forced feeding program to prevent an Al Qaeda martyr, aka “shahid” version.

Defense attorneys and human rights activists jumped all over it, denouncing the tube feeding system through the nose down into the stomach for a liquid diet as barbaric and painful. Never mind the facts that a) it saved their lives, and b) the tube was lubricated, flexible and only .1 inch in diameter, or about as thick as a strand of cooked spaghetti.

Tired of hearing all the complaints about the “inhumanity” of it all, the Navy admiral in charge of the camps from mid-2006 to mid-2007, Rear Admiral Harry Harris decided to personally take one tube-fed meal of Ensure to show the press it was humane.

A novel idea -- though it didn’t dampen the criticism too much. And why? Because critics already knew tube feeding wasn’t a big deal, and was standard practice in U.S. prisons and hospitals to save lives when needed. 

So why all the drama?

Well, President George W. Bush was in the White House, and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ran the Pentagon -- thus tube feeding was a big deal.

So where is all the outrage about the poor Gitmo hunger strikers now that President Barack Obama is in the White House, and Secretary Leon Panetta runs the Pentagon?

It’s simply not there, as it doesn’t fit neatly into the agenda of human rights organizations and many in the mainstream media who cover them. 

They cheer for this president and the steady stream of upgrades to Gitmo at taxpayer expense. Why would they draw attention to something that might possibly make this administration look bad?

And while it’s a good thing that 9/11 suspects/hunger strikers aren’t getting too much attention these days, should Republicans win the White House in November, rest assured that Moveon.org, the Occupy movement, and multitudes of human rights activists and sympathetic press will join forces to remind us of such a calamity. 

“Oh the Humanity!”

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009. He most recently served as the Vice President, Communications and Foreign Policy/National Security Adviser to Herman Cain’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign.

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-09. He serves as senior adviser to several Washington-based think tanks.