The hunger strike by prisoners at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a black eye for the United States that must be remedied.
Guantanamo has 166 foreign prisoners, some held for longer than 11 years without trial. Eighty-four are on a hunger strike, most of them since February. Sixteen are being force-fed to prevent them from dying from weight loss and other symptoms. Altogether, 86 prisoners have been cleared for release, but neither their home countries nor any other has been willing to take them, so they stay at Guantanamo.
President Barack Obama promised to close the prison as one of his first acts as president, but Congress blocked his doing so, including banning the transport of any of the prisoners to the United States for trial or release.
The 84 strikers object to their legal handling and their living circumstances, claiming that their military jailers are disrespectful of the Quran. On April 13, concerned about the strikers' resistance to discipline, military guards went into the detention facility and now keep the strikers most of the time in solitary confinement in 8-by-12-foot cells. The International Committee of the Red Cross objects strongly to force-feeding and other measures at Guantanamo.
This matter, like other issues which have reached gridlock between the U.S. executive and legislative branches of government, is not getting better. The situation at Guantanamo of prisoners being held for years without trial is so inconsistent with American principles of justice as to be shameful to a country that in principle is ruled by law.
It is well on the way to becoming an international human rights issue, robbing the United States of its moral standing in international forums to condemn unlawful acts and rights violations by other countries. The response of countries with histories of repression such as Belarus, Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe to such charges by the United States would correctly be, "Physician, heal thyself."