Saturday, May 25, 2013

Choosing Death Over Life

Trey Smith

More than 100 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are starving themselves to death. Twenty-three of them are being force-fed. “They strap you to a chair, tie up your wrists, your legs, your forehead and tightly around the waist,” Fayiz Al-Kandari told his lawyer, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard. Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo for 11 years, has never been charged with a crime.

“The tube makes his eyes water excessively and blood begins to trickle from the nose. Once the tube passes his throat the gag reflex kicks in. Warm liquid is poured into the body for 45 minutes to two hours. He feels like his body is going to convulse and often vomits,” Wingard added.

The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded that force-feeding amounts to torture. The American Medical Association says that force-feeding violates medical ethics. “Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” AMA President Jeremy Lazarus wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Yet President Barack Obama continues the tortuous Bush policy of force-feeding hunger strikers.
~ from Gitmo: Where Death is Preferable to Life by Marjorie Cohn ~
By and large, most people have a revulsion to the act of suicide. In most circles, it is considered a form of mental illness and in some places it is illegal. When most of us think about this act in general terms, it is a relatively quick act. An individual puts a gun in their mouth, hangs themselves or takes a lethal dose of pills that renders the soon-to-be-dead person unconscious in short order.

Many people view suicide as an impulsive act. A person makes this decision when they aren't thinking clearly. Because of its often quick nature, they don't have the requisite time to change their mind and, even if they do, it is often too late.

So, it can be difficult to wrap our heads around people who decide that death is preferable to life and then commence to end their lives in a slow and drawn out manner. Because it usually takes weeks to die from starvation, this is not an impulse decision -- it is conscious and thought out. What do we make of these sorts of situations?

What it points to is that life has become unbearable. Something or someone has robbed these individuals of the ability to live a life of dignity. It points to a situation of abject disrespect, intolerance, and unmitigated despair. When all hope is lost, the will to live typically goes with it.

That is precisely what has happened to the majority of prisoners housed at Gitmo. Though the majority have been cleared for release, they continue to languish in this American gulag. Though never charged with a crime, the hope of seeing family and friends again has been all but extinguished. The one person with the power to release them -- President Barack Obama -- steadfastly refuses to exercise this power. And the American people -- who get all worked up day-in and day-out on less than life-and-death issues -- yawn.

Who can blame these poor souls for trying to put an end to their personal hells? Who cannot blame America for playing the role of the devil?

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