Photo credit: Reuters

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Guantanamo Blackout

Dear Mr. President,
On December 3, General John Kelley, head of U.S. Southern Command, ordered Guantanamo prison staff to stop providing the number of prisoners on hunger strike and the number being force-fed. According to the Miami Herald which tracked these numbers each day, “‘JTF-Guantánamo allows detainees to peacefully protest but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,’ the spokesman said. ‘The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.’ He refused to elaborate on how the daily report interfered with troop security and detainee welfare...” ( So much for Guantanamo’s motto: “safe, humane, legal, transparent detention.” The only valid part now is “detention.” After the mass hunger strike earlier this year, the number of hunger strikers being force-fed dropped to 11 but it’s starting to rise again—15 as of Nov. 15—and the military (and your Administration) doesn’t want more bad publicity and the way to accomplish that is to shut down that one sliver of transparency into Guantanamo. But the article also reveals that there are 2,100 troops and contractors assigned to Guantanamo and among these 2,100 people is a public-relations team of 20, led by a Navy Commander. These are astonishing numbers: a ratio of 13 to 1 prison personnel to inmates and a 20 man PR team assigned to a prison with zero transparency. What’s even more astonishing is that we’re spending $2.7 million per prisoner per year to keep them incarcerated, most of them never charged with a crime and more than half of them cleared for release more than 3 years ago. Somehow we found $454 million this year to lock up 164 people in Guantanamo but we’re cutting pensions in Detroit and Stockton and Harrison County, Georgia and a dozen other communities because we’re broke. We can spend $68,000 on a Hellfire missile to kill an unarmed 67-year-old grandmother and village midwife picking okra in her garden in the mountains of Waziristan (actually, 2 missiles were fired at her, so it was $136,000) but we can’t find a dime for the long-term unemployed and we had to cut $9 a month from Leon Simmons’ food stamps. What does this say about our priorities, Mr. President? What does it say about our leaders and our representatives? What does it say about you?

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