The presidential commentator-in-chief says that Guantánamo is not sustainable — and 100 prisoners on hunger strike seems to reinforce that observation. But Obama used to like to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and say “the status quo is not sustainable”. Both of these sound like the observations of a powerless bystander — someone who can see what’s wrong but has no ability to fix it.
The office of the president of the United States might not be all-powerful, but it surely possesses more power than Obama often seems willing to employ.
The New York Times reports: President Obama on Tuesday recommitted to his years-old vow to close the Guantánamo Bay prison following the arrival of “medical reinforcements” of nearly 40 Navy nurses, corpsmen and specialists amid a mass hunger strike by inmates who have been held for over a decade without trial.
“It’s not sustainable,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference. “The notion that we’re going to keep 100 individuals in no man’s land in perpetuity,” he added, made no sense. “All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?”
Citing the high expense and the foreign policy costs of continuing to operate the prison, Mr. Obama said he would try again to persuade Congress to lift restrictions on transferring inmates to the federal court system. Mr. Obama was ambiguous, however, about the most difficult issue raised by the prospect of closing the prison: what to do with detainees who are deemed dangerous but could not be feasibly prosecuted.
Mr. Obama’s existing policy on that subject, which Congress has blocked, is to move detainees to maximum-security facilities inside the United States and continue holding them without trial as wartime prisoners; it is not clear whether such a change would ease the frustrations fueling the detainees’ hunger strike.
Yet at another point in the news conference, Mr. Obama appeared to question the policy of indefinite wartime detention at a time when the war in Iraq has ended, the one in Afghanistan is winding down and the original makeup of Al Qaeda has been decimated. “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried,” he said, “that is contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”
But in the short term, Mr. Obama indicated his support for the force-feeding of detainees who refused to eat.
“I don’t want these individuals to die,” he said.
As of Tuesday morning, 100 of the 166 prisoners at Guantánamo were officially deemed by the military to be participating in the hunger strike, with 21 “approved” to be fed the nutritional supplement Ensure through tubes inserted through their noses. [Continue reading…]