Sometimes you are condemned if you do and condemned if you don’t, and that is what we’re facing in dealing with the hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay. This is not an easy problem to solve, but there needs to be a more serious examination of the moral and ethical issues involved.
A little backstory: Guantanamo detainees are on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention. To keep them alive, they are force-fed liquid nutrition. A prisoner is strapped down, a tube is inserted into his nose, and food is pumped into his stomach. It can be an extremely painful process, especially if done by a guard who is not fully trained.
It is true that we’re not dealing with nice people here. As Michelle Malkin points out, “detainees have violently attacked them with everything from makeshift weapons and radios to disgusting cocktails of blood, vomit, feces, urine, and sperm.” We should be careful about the mainstream media’s narrative that the U.S. is a bad guy here, persecuting innocent people who are nonviolently resisting. But that does not erase the human rights issues involved here.
The problem here is we are placed in a difficult situation. These men are in our nation’s care, and we have a responsibility to preserve their lives if possible. Allowing them to starve themselves to death is not an attractive option and opens up serious issues about our treatment of prisoners, not to mention our civil magistrate’s obligation before God to preserve the lives of men made in His image.
But is it really preferable to force-feed the prisoners via a terribly painful process? We had an extended debate over waterboarding prisoners a few years ago, leading to President Obama ending the practice as he took office. The force-feeding process is arguably more inhumane than waterboarding, but until the last few weeks there has been little debate about it in Congress and little public pressure on Obama.
So what is the answer? In my opinion, the best option is to offer the men food and water. Instead of strapping them into a chair and force-feeding them, put them in a room with food and give them the option to eat. I suspect as the hunger gets worse, many (if not most) of them will break and eat voluntarily. Those that refuse are starving by their own choice, but not subjected to an inhumane and painful force-feeding process.
But that is only an option for the current problem. The main problem is you have prisoners who are being held indefinitely but not charged with a crime. Some have even been cleared for release. The hunger strike is only a symptom of a bigger problem. We need to find a permanent solution for what to do with the prisoners. Release the ones who can be released, and the rest should be put on trial.