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Sometimes the absurdities of an official policy or action are so clear that they need not be elucidated. Such is the case with the Obama administration’s maintenance of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, a grotesque place that only the novelist Franz Kafka, who wrote brilliantly of nightmarish milieu, could adequately describe.

Last week, President Barack Obama told reporters that he intends to once again press Congress to close the facility, as he had promised to do in his first campaign. But there is no indication that the president intends to devote any of his remaining political capital to the task — any more than he did during his first term.

Still, Obama was right about this much: Everything about the prison is “contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” So, when will it be shut down? How long will the United States continue a policy that alienates our allies, inflames our enemies, and sullies our image as a defender of human rights around the world?

Most Americans tend to think of Guantánamo as a prison for murderous jihadists — those, for example, who helped Osama bin Laden carry out the 9/11 attacks. In fact, most of Guantánamo’s remaining 166 inhabitants are unlikely to ever be charged with any crime.

Indeed, 86 of them have already been fully or conditionally cleared for release by courts or government national security agencies. But most of those are Yemenis, and Obama doesn’t want to send them home for fear they will fall in with Yemen’s al Qaeda arm. So they are stuck in limbo.

(Here’s the irony: If they had not been kept so long in brutal confinement, they might have gone home as defenders of U.S. interests. After years of cruel detention, however, they might well be risks to U.S. security.)

Some of the other 80 or so detainees may be terrorists, but only six currently face military commissions. The government has reason to suspect others of terrorist connections, but it has little evidence it can use in court.

Still others may have been confined because of identity mixups, finger-pointing by suspect informants, or simply the widespread paranoia that gripped the U.S. national security apparatus following 9/11. For example, in the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi — whose handwritten memoir of torture and incarceration has recently been published by Slate, an online news magazine — the U.S. government simply seems unable to admit that he is not a terrorist. A federal judge has ordered Slahi’s release, but the Obama administration has appealed. He has been detained at Guantánamo Bay for 11 years.

It’s no wonder, then, that dozens of detainees at Guantánamo are now conducting a hunger strike. But because Guantánamo writes its own rules of logic, several of those prisoners are being force-fed. The Pentagon has sent in medical personnel to strap them down and force tubes down their noses and into their stomachs, through which cans of nutrients are poured. That procedure, by the way, violates medical ethics, according to the American Medical Association, because patients should be able to refuse medical treatment.

Last month, one of the detainees, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, published an opinion essay in The New York Times about his ordeal: “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way,” he wrote. He is among those who has never been charged with a crime, much less convicted of one.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this mess. In Obama’s first term, Republicans and Democrats alike seized the opportunity to demagogue about Guantánamo, insisting the men held there are too dangerous to be housed in high-security U.S. prisons. That’s nonsense.

But Obama shares responsibility — especially for the men already cleared for release. If he believes that it is unfair, unjust and downright un-American to hold them any longer — and it is — he should restart the process to send them home.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gino Reyes

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has been claiming that COVID-19 has been mostly defeated in the U.S. — which is laughable in light of how much infection rates have been surging, especially in Sun Belt states. But according to Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey, Team Trump has found a new coronavirus talking point: claiming that Americans can learn to live with the pandemic and the ever-climbing death count.

According to Abutaleb and Dawsey, the "goal" of Trump's White House and campaign allies "is to convince Americans that they can live with the virus — that schools should reopen, professional sports should return, a vaccine is likely to arrive by the end of the year, and the economy will continue to improve. White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House's thinking, who requested anonymity to reveal internal deliberations."

A Trump Administration senior official, quoted anonymously, told the Post that Americans will "live with the virus being a threat." And a former Trump official, according to the Post, said of Trump's allies, "They're of the belief that people will get over it, or if we stop highlighting it, the base will move on — and the public will learn to accept 50,000 to 100,000 new cases a day."



Figures from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore show that the coronavirus pandemic continues to be quite deadly — especially in the United States. As of Monday morning, July 6, Hopkins was reporting a worldwide COVID-19 death count of more than 534,800 — and almost 130,000 of those deaths were in the U.S.

Biden's campaign has been asserting that the former vice president has a much better track record than Trump when it comes to pandemics. Democratic strategist and Biden campaign adviser Ariana Berengaut told the Post, "From really January on, Vice President Biden has been laser focused on the rising risk to the American people presented by this pandemic. You can almost imagine them side by side — Trump's leadership and Biden's leadership…. Trump has no plan for tomorrow, no plan for a week from now; so, there is absolutely no plan for the fall, and that's what encapsulates the whole arc of that contrast."

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, told the Post that Trump's coronavirus response has been and continues to be an abysmal failure.

Garin asserted, "Trump is increasingly defined in voters' minds by his failing response to the coronavirus crisis, and virtually every action and position he's taken have been wildly out of sync with where the public is at on what should be done. Biden now has a remarkable opportunity to contrast himself with this failure of leadership that a large majority of voters see so clearly."