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Detainees resist, but liberty elusive

Questions about the constitutionality of the Guantánamo enterprise, grave human rights concerns, deviance from Geneva Convention mandates, the manipulation of racist fears and scapegoating of Middle Eastern men have all been raised.

We are grateful and proud to be part of a community that takes such interest in this debacle, to be part of a community that deems this issue newsworthy, worthy of our continued attention, a community that would take the radical step of offering refuge to two specific detainees, Ravil Mingazov and Ahmed Belbacha, who to this day remain at Guantánamo.

Their situation could so easily recede into a distance, somehow beyond our ken, beyond our reach, beyond any meaningful action we could undertake on their behalf and for ourselves. The drift toward such state-sanctioned abuse and lawlessness is a threat to us all.

The hunger strike that began six months ago, which has involved more than 130 Guantánamo detainees, has once again brought worldwide attention to the plight of these men. Ahmed Belbacha’s account of his experience being force-fed during the hunger strike was reported by the BBC in June.

A Northampton attorney represents two current and five former detainees at Guantánamo Bay, a unique pair of eyes within our own community — Buz Eisenberg of Weinberg & Glarber, P.C., and professor of criminal justice and constitutional law at Greenfield Community College. Eisenberg has been working with detainees at Guantánamo for almost nine years.

Eisenberg last visited with his clients there in May. Eisenberg comments, “Once again I had the opportunity to have a perfectly wonderful visit in a perfectly dreadful setting.”

Through his work Eisenberg has become thoroughly familiar with the horrifying conditions and unthinkable abuse suffered by his clients over 11 years of confinement, despite the fact that they have never been accused of any crime. Eisenberg also serves as president of the International Justice Network, an organization fighting for due process and fair treatment for Bagram detainees in Afghanistan.

Now, all but three detainees in Camp 6 at Guantánamo are on a hunger strike, mainly protesting conditions, though a few see it as a way to escape indefinite detention, even if that means dying and leaving in a coffin. The U.S. military will not permit them this right to protest, and instead, straps them to a chair and forces a nasal tube into their stomachs in a procedure which Physicians for Human Rights calls inhumane, painful and humiliating. Most are therefore taking food and supplements “voluntarily” in order to avoid the torture of force feeding.

When asked about the hunger strike, one of Eisenberg’s clients responded that all he wished for was “A plate full of liberty.” The United States government has held detainees at Guantánamo since Jan. 11, 2002. While the government has cleared 86 of the 166 remaining detainees for transfer, the United States government nevertheless continues to deny detainees reasonable legal recourse or any obvious path to freedom.

We await the outcome of President Obama’s recent announcement that two detainees could be released to Algeria.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., Eisenberg will review the geopolitical implications of the shameful adventure we call Guantánamo. He will report on the personal pain of the detainees kidnapped and held there by force.

He will provide an update on the status and conditions related to the hunger strike, continued interference by the U.S. government with lawyer-client relations and meetings, current legal challenges and pending political actions in the United States as they relate to Guantánamo.

This program will take place at Northampton Friends Meeting at 43 Center St. It is organized by Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos and cosponsored by more than a dozen local community groups.

We invite you to attend, learn more specifics about the lives, hopes and sorrows of these men and consider what action we can take.

Robert Barker, Norma Akamatsu and Nancy Talanian are members of the group Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos.

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