Video by Stand Fast for Justice
Watching one of America's most politically-conscious rappers break down in tears after doctors strap his arms and head to a chair a la A Clockwork Orange, jam a nasogastric feeding tube up his nose, and pump liquid through it is certainly one way to draw attention to what's happening now at Guantanamo Bay.
The one-day-old four-minute-long shiver-inducer of a video depicts rapper and poet Mos Def, who now goes by his Arabic name Yasiim Bey, being force-fed in the same manner as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Made by the human rights organization Reprieve with the filmmaker Asif Kapadia, it's part of Stand Fast for Justice, an Internet attempt to call attention to the over forty prisoners who are currently undergoing force-feeding procedures by military doctors at the U.S. base in Cuba (the hashtag is #standfast). As calls to close the facility ring louder than ever, the administration insists on its right to combat a hunger strike that over one hundred prisoners have been engaged in since February.
According to Andy Worthington, a journalist and activist who co-founded the "Close Guantanamo" campaign, this most extreme form of protest arose in response to an "aggressive new search policy" under which prisoners' private possessions—family correspondence, messages traded with lawyers, personal copies of the Koran-- were seized and in many cases destroyed. While the search changes sparked the food strike, the protest became a means for the prisoners to state that they felt abandoned by all three branches of the US government, an opinion which Worthington said had "unerring accuracy."
In an address in May where he was heckled repeateadly, Obama raised the issue. "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. . . Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."
"The president provided such an eloquent explanation of why Guantanamo is so abhorrent an institution that I don't believe it will be possible for him to drop it again and to retreat to a position of inertia," Worthington told my colleague Michael Arria last month. "But clearly the pressure must continue, as Obama appears to be in no hurry to act... We need action sooner rather than later, and we need, most of all, courage and an understanding that knowing the difference between right and wrong is worthless unless it leads to decisive action."
Originally, the US government refused to acknowledge the hunger strike, until prisoners' attorneys documented it themselves. As of Monday, the military reported that 106 men of the 166 still held are currently refusing food. Forty five of them are forced into a room full of trained doctors to experience both a physically and emotionally traumatizing feeding procedure that occurs twice a day for a total of four hours.
"Feeding chair and [internal] nourishment preparation inside the Joint Medical Group where the detainees receive medical care." Photo by Sgt. Brian Godette
On Monday a Federal judge rejected a motion for a preliminary injunction against the practice, sought by a Syrian held at Guantanamo. But while U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said that the court could not make a ruling on force-feeding by the military, she knew someone who could. “The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” she wrote.
Kessler questioned the military’s response to the hunger strike, and noted that using a tube to feed people against their will is a violation of medical ethics as well as international prohibitions against inhumane treatment. “It is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the organizations just cited," she wrote, "that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating and degrading process."
Bey's own form of protest recalls the time Christopher Hitchens filmed himself getting waterboarded—again, Gitmo-style—for Vanity Fair in 2008—"Believe Me, It's Torture," the late journalist wrote—or even the film Hunger that depicted the horrific hunger strikes that occurred in Ireland during the 1980s. Bey, who breaks down and, like Hitchens, sobs, could not endure the tubes for more than two minutes. Now imagine what it feels like to be stateless, held without trial, and have liquid shot through your air-deprived nostrils for two hundred and forty.