"While President Barack Obama still faces stiff headwinds on a range of major legislation on his agenda, he has been signing into law a slew of smaller initiatives that had gathered dust on the Democratic wish list for years...."
It is our evolving understanding of force-feeding that most clearly demonstrates this process of inversion and invisibility—not because it is the most horrifying form of torture, though it is horrifying, but because it has been so completely mainstreamed. Indeed, as it is practiced at Guantánamo, force-feeding is understood not only to not be torture but in fact to be a form of mercy. It is understood, above all, as a way to “preserve life.”
As of this writing, at least thirty men are being force-fed at Guantánamo. They are being force-fed despite the departure of the administration that instituted force-feeding, despite the current administration’s order to shut down Guantánamo, and despite its even more specific order requiring prisoners there to be treated within the bounds of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which—by every interpretation but that of the U.S. government—clearly forbids force-feeding.1
1. The conventions forbid “humiliating and degrading treatment,” and doctors who advise the Red Cross, which in turn has considerable oversight in interpreting the conventions, have repeatedly made clear that force-feeding is humiliating and degrading. See, for instance, the judgment of Red Cross adviser Hernán Reyes, in a 1998 policy review: “Doctors should never be party to actual coercive feeding, with prisoners being tied down and intravenous drips or oesophageal tubes being forced into them. Such actions can be considered a form of torture, and under no circumstances should doctors participate in them, on the pretext of ‘saving the hunger striker’s life.’”
Hoover’s every decision in fighting the Great Depression mirrored the sentiments of 1920s “business progressivism,” even as he understood intellectually that something more was required. Farsighted as he was compared with almost everyone else in public life, believing as much as he did in activist government, he still could not convince himself to take the next step and accept that the basic economic tenets he had believed in all his life were discredited; that something wholly new was required.
Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past—without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, he is bound to fail.
like Hoover, Obama has been unable to make his actions live up to his words. Health care is being gummed to death on Capitol Hill. Obama has done nothing to pass “card check” provisions that would facilitate union organization and quietly announced that he would not seek stronger labor and environmental protections in NAFTA. He has capitulated on cap-and-trade in the budget outline and never even bothered to push for an actual carbon tax. Only minuscule portions of the stimulus bill or his budget proposals were dedicated to mass transit, and his indifference to the issue—what must be a major component of any serious effort to go green—was reflected in his appointment of a mediocre Republican time-server, Ray LaHood, as his transportation secretary.
Still worse is Obama’s decision to leave the reordering of the financial world solely to Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, both of whom played such a major role in deregulating Wall Street and bringing on the disaster in the first place. It’s as if, after winning election in 1932, FDR had brought Andrew Mellon back to the Treasury. Just as Herbert Hoover could not, in the end, break away from the best economic advice of the 1920s, Barack Obama is sticking with the “key men” of the 1990s. The predictable result is that, even as he claims to recognize the interlocking nature of the problems facing us and vows to solve them as a whole, the president is in fact abandoning most of his program, at least for the time being.
Obama will have to directly attack the fortified bastions of the newest “new class”—the makers of the paper economy in which he came of age—if he is to accomplish anything. These interests did not spend fifty years shipping the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world overseas only to be challenged by a newly empowered, green-economy working class. They did not spend much of the past two decades gobbling up previously public sectors such as health care, education, and transportation only to have to compete with a reinvigorated public sector. They mean, even now, to use the bailout to make the government their helpless junior partner, and if they can they will devour every federal dollar available to recoup their own losses, and thereby preclude the use of any monies for the rest of Barack Obama’s splendid vision.
Franklin Roosevelt also took office imagining that he could bring all classes of Americans together in some big, mushy, cooperative scheme. Quickly disabused of this notion, he threw himself into the bumptious give-and-take of practical politics; lying, deceiving, manipulating, arraying one group after another on his side—a transit encapsulated by how, at the end of his first term, his outraged opponents were calling him a “traitor to his class” and he was gleefully inveighing against “economic royalists” and announcing, “They are unanimous in their hatred for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
Obama should not deceive himself into thinking that such interest-group politics can be banished any more than can the cycles of Wall Street. It is not too late for him to change direction and seize the radical moment at hand. But for the moment, just like another very good man, Barack Obama is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.
posted by yhbc at 10:37 AM on November 4 [has favorites +]
What are the things that Obama has "control over?" As in can make them happen instantaneously and in a way that will work in the long term. Sure like to see this list.
Maybe the people in Guantano can become naturalized citizens. They've been in the US long enough. Maybe they can claim refugee status. They are already in the US after all.
Although it is true that waterboarding is once again proscribed, it is equally true that the government continues to permit a series of “torture lite” techniques—prolonged isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, force-feeding—that even Reagan appointee Judge Susan Crawford had to acknowledge amounted to torture when she threw out the government’s case against one accused terrorist. Like waterboarding, these techniques cause extreme mental anguish and permanent physical damage, and, like waterboarding, they are not permitted under international law. But unlike waterboarding, they remain on the books, in detailed prison regulations and field-manual directives, unremarked by anyone except a few activists.
Most of these prisoners are not facing imminent death. In fact, force-feeding is itself a risky “treatment” that can cause infections, gastrointestinal disorders, and other complications. The feedings begin very soon after prisoners begin a hunger strike, and continue daily—with military guards strapping them to restraint chairs, usually for several hours at a time—until the prisoners agree to end the strike. This hunger striker is not an emaciated Bobby Sands lying near death after many weeks of starvation. He is a strong man bound to a chair and covered in his own vomit.
Ahmed Ghap pour, an attorney with the human-rights group Reprieve, which represents thirty-one detainees at Guantánamo, told Reuters that prison officials were “over-force-feeding” hunger strikers, who were suffering from diarrhea as they sat tied to their chairs. He said in some cases officials were lacing the nutrient shakes with laxatives. And the situation was getting worse. “According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in abuse since President Obama was inaugurated,” Ghappour said, speculating that guards there wanted to “get their kicks in” before the camp closed.
David Remes, an attorney who represents fifteen detainees at Guantánamo, wrote in an April petition to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that one of his clients, Farhan Abdul Latif, had been suffering in particular. When the nasogastric tube “is threaded though his nostril into his stomach,” it “feels like a nail going into his nostril, and like a knife going down his throat.” Latif had in recent months resorted to covering himself with his own excrement in order “to avoid force-feeding and that, when he was finally force-fed, the tube was inserted through the excrement covering his nostrils.
Another prisoner, Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad, told his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights that he and fifteen other men had also refused to eat: Mr. Mouhammad described that men were vomiting while being overfed. Some of the striking detainees had kept their feeding tubes in their noses even when not being force-fed just to avoid having the tubes painfully reinserted each time. Mr. Mouhammad reported that interrogators were pressuring and coercing the men on hunger strike to eat, making promises that they would be moved to the communal living camp if they began eating. Mr. Mouhammad described these experiences as “torture, torture, torture.”
Whatever you think of Obama or his policies and effectiveness, the simple fact is that the people will judge him not on what he does but on how closely he meets their expectations.
Not closing Guantanamo and not pulling out of Iraq and not pushing for universal coverage means he betrayed his supporters.
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