No Comment — July 9, 2009, 9:39 am

A Tour of Gitmo

Barack Obama promised to end torture. He’s largely come through on this promise, but one vestige of the Bush-era torture program remains: force feeding at Guantánamo. Meg Laughlin of the St. Petersburg Times takes the Gitmo show tour and delivers a report bubbling with irony:

The doctor in charge of the Guantanamo prison hospital says he’s “extremely proud” to be there, but he won’t give his name. A pale man with auburn hair in his 50s, he tells us he’s an internist from Jacksonville and to call him “Smo” — for senior medical officer. The head nurse says to call her “Audi” — like the car. Forgive them if they gush, they say, as we walk through the shiny hospital, but they are “bowled over” by the quality of care for the prison’s 240 detainees. The hospital is a regular stop on the media tour of Guantanamo, which, the military has gone to great lengths to convince the world, is operating in a “safe, humane, legal and transparent” manner despite previous stories. But seeing patients is impossible, Smo tells us, even with their permission in hand. Instead we’re led through the empty X-ray room and the endoscopy lab, while a noise machine gurgles loudly in the background. Audi tells the four reporters on the media tour that the noise machine helps sick inmates rest. FBI reports, available to anyone with an Internet connection, say it was once used for sensory deprivation during interrogations. We ask about the rail-thin Yemeni detainee, 31, whose death was widely reported the week before. Didn’t he die in the hospital? “Can’t talk about it because it’s under investigation,” Smo says. We ask about the daily forced-feeding of a few dozen hunger strikers who are protesting years in isolation. Three former detainees have told me the procedure is “sadistic” because of the restraint chair and how the tube is jammed in and jerked out.

Smo objects to that characterization, preferring to describe the sessions as “endearing” because detainees report “their brothers who are starving themselves to help each other.”

In the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, director Alex Gibney took his viewers on an official tour of Gitmo to the accompaniment of mocking music at a quickened pace. He pointed to the comic crudeness with which America’s place of shame was being marketed to the world. Now regime change has come to Washington, and notwithstanding a promise to close Gitmo, procedures there seem essentially untouched. Most likely that’s the product of forces within the military who fear the consequences of their abusive conduct and therefore refuse to admit that anything is wrong, like the doctor who’s so “proud” of his work that he refuses to disclose his name. But maybe the American public needs to know the identity of all those health care professionals who, in the guise of offering medical support to prisoners, actually tortured them. After all, would you want to be treated by a physician who understands his vocation to include torturing patients? Would you want a loved one to come within his or her care? And shouldn’t Americans be free to choose? Are the applicable professional ethics bodies taking a look at what is going on under the guise of “force feeding,” in clear violation of the ethical standards of the medical profession?

The definitive word about the still ongoing use of torture at Gitmo is to be found in Luke Mitchell’s article, “We Still Torture.” Read it and ask yourself if this is “change we can believe in.”

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