Shut Guantánamo down!

They won’t try us. They won’t let us live in peace, and they won’t let us die in peace.” — Fayiz al-Kandari, hunger striker at the Camp Delta, U.S. military prison, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (The Guardian, May 4).

In the face of a growing number of hunger strikers, now numbering as many as 130 of the 166 prisoners held at the military prison at Guantánamo, even President Barack Obama said on April 30 that the prison there “needs to be closed.”

Obama said the same thing back in his presidential campaign of 2008. But, in fact, virtually no steps have been taken to close this infamous torture center since it was opened 11 years ago by the Bush regime. Most of the prisoners are being held without any charges, without any hearings.

Now the U.S. military is force feeding more than 21 of the prisoners, an act which the United Nations and other human rights organizations have labeled a form of torture. The World Medical Association has condemned force feeding as “contrary to the laws of humanity.” But Obama backs its use in Guantánamo.

The “feeding” that is done there consists of tubes being forced down the prisoners’ noses while they are strapped to chairs. Al-Kandari told the Guardian about this technique’s three stages of pain:

“First, there is the sensation of the tube passing near his sinuses as it is pushed through his nose and into his throat, which causes the eyes to water. Then there is an intense burning and gagging sensation as it goes down the throat. Finally, when the tube enters the stomach there is a strong urge to vomit.”

Al-Kandari told his lawyer, Carlos Warner, of the most painful part of this. Once the food is delivered, it delivers the most painful moment of all: the return of feeling hungry.

The hunger strike began on Feb. 3 after a search and seizure by heavily armed guards at the prison. It spread rapidly after the prisoners were brutally attacked by night sticks and rubber bullets on April 13. Since then, the prisoners have been kept in isolation in a failed attempt to break the strike.

Nothing more clearly defines U.S. imperialism’s brutal character than the termless imprisonment and outright torture conducted at Guantánamo. While some political and media figures here may bemoan its existence, and even though Obama is supposedly the “Commander in Chief” over the Pentagon, he and the Congress apparently don’t dare to close it.

Imperialism employs Guantánamo as one of its many weapons of terror against the oppressed peoples of the globe. Its message is clear: If you oppose Washington’s rapacious greed, its theft of your resources, its occupations, its wars, this is what you will face.

But the prisoners at Guantánamo are sending their own message. For decades, hunger strikes have been a desperate, but sometimes successful measure used to resist oppression — if they find a response in the population and galvanize mass action. Combined with strong support among progressive organizations here and around the world, the prisoners’ courageous actions can indeed force imperialism to shut Guantánamo down!