President Obama said in Cairo this week that he sought a new beginning in US relations with the Muslim world, and a relationship based on common principles, including "principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."
Beautiful words, but deeds tend to speak louder and this week one spoke volumes. Just a few days before the president spoke, a US prisoner held for seven years without charge, killed himself rather than endure one more day at the US Detention center in Guantanamo.
Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al-Hanashi, whose death was announced Tuesday, was the fifth prisoner – and the second Yemeni – to die in an apparent suicide at the Guantanamo prison. Not charged with any crime, Saleh was 31 years old. Information is limited, but lawyers who visited in May said Saleh was one of seven being held in a psychiatric ward where he was restrained in a chair and force-fed through a tube the width of a finger. It’s an excruciating process. The attorney of another striker described a tube being inserted by one guard while another holds the prisoner’s chin and a third holds him back by his hair. "No anesthesia or sedative".
Pentagon medical records show Saleh weighed 124 pounds when he entered Guantanamo. A few years later he was down to just 87 pounds.
How a man in his shape might have managed to kill himself is hard to imagine. Why is far easier.
The vast majority of Yemenis in Guantanamo have never been charged — and more than a dozen have been cleared for return. But only two have left in the past two years and talks with the Yemeni government are stalled.
Meanwhile, 17 Chinese Uighur Muslims prisoners some of whom the Bush administration cleared for release as early as 2003, continue to languish occupying an iconic place in Gitmo culture. Their release would give hope to the hopeless, say fellow prisoners’ attorneys. They should never have been incarcerated. They could be released into the US tomorrow. It’s going to take actions like that, Mr. President for those words, "Justice, progress, tolerance, and respect for the dignity of all human beings" on an American president’s tongue might begin the long journey of actually gaining some meaning.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.