Abducted by bounty hunters, imprisoned without cause, denied due process of law, cleared of all charges yet forbidden to go home, scores of innocent men in the Guantanamo Bay gulag have been driven to resist in the only way they can – by staging a hunger strike.
Finding themselves irretrievably in the hands of an immensely powerful enemy that is entirely unburdened by moral scruples, the Gitmo hunger strikers have decided to pursue freedom on the only terms available to them: Either as living human beings, or as souls emancipated from bodies that remain unjustly confined, they will be free.
The despicable people who run the Caribbean prison are more than willing to allow their victims to kill themselves out of despair – or evento murder some of them and disguise the act as suicide. However, they will not countenance the act of self-slaughter if it is made as an assertion of self-ownership.
So since the hunger strike began in February, the gulag-keepers in Guantanamo Bay have employed the same tactic once used by their Soviet forebears in dealing with dissenters: They have been punishing the hunger-strikers by force-feeding them, an act widely recognized as torture. This involves shackling a victim to a restraint chair, immobilizing his head, and either forcing a feeding tube down his throat, or snaking it down a nasal passage through the alimentary canal into his stomach.
“In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow” – that regime’s functional equivalent of Gitmo – “I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner — through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.”
What Bukovsky described as a novel method is now standard operating procedure at Gitmo. In words saturated with pain, Bukovsky recounted that the effort to insert the feeding tube turned his nose into a bloody geyser, and wrenched tears from his eyes. His captors, determined to make him submit, were initially heedless of his suffering, and “kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man — my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit.”To understand the depravity of this procedure, and to appreciate the focused cruelty necessary to carry it out, it is worthwhile to view the demonstration video produced by Reprieve that features actor and activist Yasiin Bey (also known by the stage name Mos Def). The video re-enactment– in which Bey was reduced to a tearful wreck within less than a minute – shows the performer being shackled, confined to a restraint chair, and enduring the insertion of the feeding tube. It was released on July 8 – the same day that US District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington issued a ruling that she has no authority to force the military to end the practice. Apparently, this can only be done on the orders of the Dear Leader himself. The video, produced by the British human rights organization Reprieve, is unbearable to watch, but please – for the love of God – watch it.
Bear in mind that this Soviet-grade torture technique, which takes up to two hours, has been inflicted twice a day on victims who, unlike Bey, could not stop it.
Bukovksy endured this hideous ritual for ten days. He eventually outlasted his tormentors, who – unlike the American functionaries at Gitmo – retained some moral inhibitions over torture.
Eventually, he recalled, “the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: `Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It’ll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool.’ The doctor was in tears: `Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can’t do that.’ And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.”
We should take a moment to unpack this remarkable account. First of all, the Soviet doctor who carried out the force-feeding was afraid that she would be prosecuted for torturing Bukovsky. In contemporary – which is to say, Soviet – America, a doctor who enables can enjoy a lucrative pension and an appointment to a prestigious leadership position in a mainstream church. In Bukovsky’s case, the guards were eager to find some excuse to disobey orders to torture their victim, and were afflicted with decent shame over what they had done to him. I vehemently doubt that the same can be said of the supposed heroes stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
The inescapable conclusion is that the Soviet police state apparatus, while incontestably vile and murderous, was in some ways less depraved than the version over which Washington now presides.
Pentagon spokesliar Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale dismissed Reprieve’s force-feeding reenactment as “a clever bit of cause marketing” and insisted that what was done to the heroic Yassin Bey “doesn’t comport with our procedures.” That latter comment is technically true, since there’s no evidence that Bey was beaten in his cell by a thugscrum of armored assailants and then beaten once again when he was returned to confinement – an omission that actually underplays the criminal violence that is part of the ritual.
At least 45 of the strikers have been subjected to force-feeding. After losing as much as a third of their body weight, they have been left frail and sickly – and thus are irresistible targets to the heroes who swarm the inmates in overwhelming numbers and beat them without pity. As was the case in the Soviet Union, operatives of the American Homeland Security State are drawn from a stygian talent pool in which sociopaths and sadists are common. The military personnel involved in torturing the Gitmo hunger-strikers must of necessity be the kind of people who revel in brutalizing innocent, helpless people. This is especially true of the depraved people who compose the Initial Reaction Forces (IRFs) – the SWAT-style squads used to carry out “Forcible Cell Extractions” (FCEs) of hunger strikers.
British citizen Shaker Aamer, who has been imprisoned at Gitmo since 2002 and cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations, has described how he has been beaten by IRFs merely for requesting a cup of water.
“They come into my cell, slam me on the floor, shackle me, haul me out of the cell, put a bottle of water on my bed, pull me back in, and cut the shackles off – with a few thwacks in between,” Aamer testifies in a report published by Reprieve. Frightened of the abuse he would experience if he sought to take a shower, Aamer has resorted to using toilet water to cleanse himself.
“They wear white gowns with black uniforms with weapons,” testifies detainee Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani. “The outfits they wear are like the Darth Vader uniforms from Star Wars. They force me to lie on the concrete floor on my stomach. They stand outside the door and order me to bend my legs up at the back. Then they rush into the cell and sit on me. One will bind my hands, one my legs, and so on. I am not resisting or doing anything. I am just lying on the floor.”
If he offers any protest, or tries to invoke his rights in any way, Rabbani continues, he will be beaten and kicked as his assailants chant the shared refrain of police officers and rapists: “Don’t resist! Don’t resist!”
What is done in Gitmo won’t stay in Gitmo. The Regime’s offshore gulag has been a training academy for future law enforcement officers and prison guards. It has also been an experimental laboratory for techniques and strategies that will be imported into the mainland. This has happened many times before.
For example: the practice of waterboarding (aka the “Water Cure”), which had been used extensively by US occupation forces in the Philippines, was adopted as an interrogation method by many domestic police departments until the 1930s. Specialized military police units organized by US “military advisers” in Vietnam during the late 1950s provided the template used for the first SWAT team in Los Angeles in 1968. A recent 60 Minutes broadcast hymned the praises of police units in Springfield, Massachusetts that have incorporated the “counterinsurgency” methods employed by occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shutting down Gitmo would not mean an end to the practices that have been perfected there.
Force-feeding in US prisons is commonplace. William Coleman, a prison inmate in Connecticut, has been force-fed for the past five years. Coleman staged a hunger strike to protest what he insists is a wrongful domestic violence conviction. The state supreme court agreed that this was necessary to deter other hunger strikes, which are described as a threat to “prison security.” In California, prison officials can withhold food and water from critically ill inmates who reject “life-sustaining treatment,” but they claim the authority to force-feed inmates who stage hunger strikes. On August 19 a federal judge granted permission for California prison officials to force-feed 70 inmatestaking part in a hunger strike protesting the practice of solitary confinement — which in some cases can last for decades.
There is at least one case in which police obtained a warrant for what could be called force-feeding in reverse.
A recently revealed warrant issued by a Milwaukee judge ordered physicians to pump the stomach of a man named Terrance Fleetwood, who was suspected of swallowing a bag filled with cocaine. That warrant was signed at 1:45 a.m. on February 22 by Circuit Judge Ellen Brostrom – which means that she didn’t invest any deliberation into the matter at all. From her perspective, there is nothing remarkable, let alone objectionable, about ordering physicians to torture a suspect in order to extract evidence from his stomach. Doctors refused to carry out the procedure, called a nasogastric aspiration, without Fleetwood’s consent. By upholding their obligations under the Hippocratic Oath, they risked being arrested for obstruction and being imprisoned for contempt of court.
The police staked out Fleetwood’s hospital bed for five days, and failed to find any evidence that he had consumed cocaine. They eventually charged him with several offenses, including narcotics possession and obstruction. Prosecutors extorted a plea agreement from the victim that resulted in an 18 month prison sentence.
This was not the only example of what we could call the “Gitmo-ization” of domestic law enforcement.
In August 2008, Niagara Falls County Judge Sara Sperrazza issued an order that Ryan Smith submit to a DNA test to see if he was involved in a pair of armed robberies. Smith gave the sample, but it was sent to the wrong lab and ruined.
A second order was issued without informing Smith’s defense attorney. Smith refused the second test. The DA’s office authorized police to use “minimum force” to compel Smith to submit to the test. The police used a Taser to break down Smith’s resistance and secure the sample.
The defense challenged the legality of this act. Judge Sperrazza ruled that it is permissible to use a Taser to enforce a court order, as long as the device is not used “maliciously.”
Using the device with clinical, dispassionate indifference to the rights of the victim would be perfectly acceptable, however.
In reversing that ruling last year, a New York State appeals court recognized that the Taser is an implement that can be used to inflect “extreme pain … with little or no injury” and ruled that the use of a Taser to extract the DNA sample was “unreasonable” because the suspect “posed no immediate threat to the safety of himself or the officers.” What this means, of course, is that next time police decide to employ a Taser in an interrogation they will invoke the all-sufficient claim of “officer safety” to justify torturing the suspect.
The comprehensive denial of self-ownership is the foundation of every totalitarian system. In contemporary America, no individual has any rights that those who operate on behalf of the malignant fiction called the State are required to respect – and the innocent have no right to resist under any circumstances, even to the extent of withholding DNA or blood samples or the content of their stomachs, or choosing to die rather than enduring imprisonment that is both interminable and illegal.
It is true that we don’t see systematic abuses of the kind that took place in Stalin’s Russia. What we see instead is the imposition of Stalinism on an “as-applied” basis – or what we could call “scalable totalitarianism.” The Regime that rules us is at least as bad as the one from which it supposedly saved us during the Cold War.