My Personal Fast
I have been on a 300-calorie-a-day indefinite hunger strike since Sunday evening, May 12. As of today, having completed 23 days of fasting, I have lost nearly 21 pounds. My participation in this strike was prompted by the decision of 130-140 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (where 166 total prisoners have been held, without charge or chance for trial, for as long as 10+ years) to embark on a hunger strike to protest their continued long captivity and tortured treatment.
Since their fasting commenced, many have been force-fed with tubes rammed into their noses and down into their stomachs, causing bleeding and vomiting, while chained from head to foot in a chair. These men have not seen their families since being brutally snatched from their home communities beginning in 2001 upon directives from the U.S. government and its secret operatives, who are known to have freely handed out lucrative bounties to those who would finger someone, anyone. The continuing captivity and maltreatment of these prisoners is medieval, barbaric, sadistic, and grotesquely illegal according to both U.S. and international law. It dehumanizes all of us.
The Most Salient Question
For me, the salient question is: What is the proportionate response when one knows his or her government has waged, for twelve years, and continues, a Global War OF Terror, committing on an ongoing basis the supreme international crime of aggression (Nuremberg) against a multitude of countries around the world, while participating in the associated war crimes and crimes against humanity, murdering as many as two million innocent human beings, maiming and displacing millions of others, while torturing thousands, destabilizing regions for years, even decades to come?
Meanwhile, domestic repression tightens the noose on any effective dissent. The 2001 Patriot Act eliminated Habeas Corpus for foreigners, as the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) eliminated it for U.S. citizens deemed by the President as “terrorists.” Please tell me: What is the proportionate response to all this diabolical criminality and barbarity?
Though there may not be a simple answer, this is a most important question. I viscerally feel the pain of the Guantanamo prisoners. Each of these individual’s odyssey began with being kidnapped, hooded, and continually shackled while being transported from one torture prison to another, until finally flown (hooded and shackled) to the U.S. gulag known as Guantanamo. The U.S. has acknowledged at least 100 of the prisoners were murdered during the torture process, before arriving at Guantanamo, ruling the deaths as homicides. The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo is located within a 45-square-mile parcel of land forcefully taken from the Cuban people in the 1898 (illegal) Spanish-American War.
Preserving my humanity requires me to do something, as I strive to express unmistakable solidarity with the pain and suffering of the prisoners who remain at Guantanamo. As Socialist Eugene Debs declared, “While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
U.S. Pattern of Imperialism is Entrenched
Since my birth on July 4, 1941, my country has overtly, militarily invaded dozens of countries at least 390 times, covertly interfering in other countries’ sovereignty thousands of times, while bombing 28 of them. I personally witnessed grotesque atrocities against the Vietnamese people, and subsequently witnessed illegal and barbaric U.S. policies at work in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Colombia, among others. Drones, our newest killing invention, have added another inherently destructive technology to the global murder arsenal, enabling the President to decide anyone labeled “terrorist” can be murdered with premeditation, any place, any time, such decisions being made at his whim, in secrecy, with no accountability.
The U.S. is now a totalitarian state that has eliminated basic principles established some 800 years ago with the Magna Carta. Smart bombs and smart missiles are in fact really dumb because they directly create more enraged enemies, endangering the U.S. American people. In my eyes, the U.S. President is a totalitarian monster no less than the worst monarchs and dictators in world history.
The Gated Society: The U.S. love affair with incarceration, solitary confinement and torture
I live in a country that imprisons more than 2.5 million of its citizens on an average day in more than 9,000 jails and prisons, boasting the highest per capita detention rate in the world by far – 800 prisoners for every 100,000 people [Local jails: 745,000; state and federal adult prisons: 1,600,000; juvenile facilities: 141,000; and immigrant detention: 34,000 = Grand Total: 2,520,000 U.S. prisoners]. Rwanda has the second highest detention rate at 595; Russia comes in third at 568. The world’s average per capita detention rate is 146.
More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are from racial and ethnic minority groups yet they comprise only 36 percent of the general population. The U.S., with 4.6 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. At least 80,000 of these, and as many 110,000, are locked up in solitary confinement in facilities for years such as continues at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, among dozens of locations. Being held in solitary for more than 15 days was determined in 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur to begin devastating, often irreversible physical and mental ill effects, and is therefore considered torture. Force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes in the U.S. is also not unusual, itself another form of torture in violation of international law. Solitary confinement inevitably contributes to increased risks of prison suicides, of which hundreds are reported every year. Nine Guantanamo prisoners are reported to have died, and at least six of these deaths were suicides.
I studied the regular use of torture in Massachusetts prisons in 1981, where force feeding of striking prisoners was common; as was the withholding of rights and privileges such as necessary medicine, mail, or winter clothing during cold weather; the imposition of hazards such as flooding cells, igniting clothes and bedding, providing too little or too much heat, and spraying mace and tear gas; inflicting physical beatings of prisoners filing prison complaints or litigation, of those protesting conditions using hunger strikes; and various forms of intentional psychological abuse such as arbitrary shakedown of cells and brutal rectal searches, ordering prisoners to lie face down on cold floors or the outside ground before receiving food, and empty announcements of visitors or family only later to say it was a joke.
During the Spanish-American war in the Philippines, President Teddy Roosevelt proudly defended water boarding torture as part of the arsenal of techniques to achieve “the triumph of civilization over the black chaos of savagery and barbarism” of the Filipinos, or “googoos”. The U.S. Marines used one of the first instances of air power and widespread torture to overcome a Haitian revolt of “savage monkeys” against the continuing U.S. presence there in 1920.” The word googoo morphed into “gook” as the derogatory term used by U.S. soldiers against the Vietnamese.
In 1931 President Hoover’s Wickersham Report (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) concluded that the use of torture (intentional infliction of various methods of pain and suffering) was “widespread” throughout the entire U.S. criminal justice system. The U.S. school of the Americas has been teaching torture (“interrogation”) to Latin American military personnel since 1946.
Torture Is U.S. Policy.
Guantanamo continues a long U.S. tradition and pattern of domestic cruelty to its own prisoners, as it represents the continuation of the supreme international crimes launched by the U.S. beginning in 2001. This hunger strike intends to address this chronic pattern by affirming my mantra, “We are not worth more; they are not worth less”.
This statement first appeared on S. Brian Willson’s website on June 4, 2013.