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Posted June 12, 2013

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger

By Michael Neuroth*

May 17th marked the 100th day of the Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike.  During the past several months, over 100 of the 166 prisoners have engaged in a hunger strike as an act of desperation and defiance.  Thirty-seven prisoners are being force-fed against their will through tubes inserted into the mouth and nose to keep them alive.   This procedure is extremely painful and degrading.  One striker, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, describes the process in a recent and powerful, April 14th, New York Times editorial , “Gitmo is Killing Me,”  Moqbel writes,

“I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.  I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial…

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray…

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.  I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.”

These words should sting the ears and prick the conscience of every person of faith, every policy maker in Washington, D.C.  While some claim that it is inhumane to let someone harm himself through starvation or other means, human rights groups see forced feedings as nothing less than torture and thus a violation of international law.  As people of faith we stand against torture of any kind, in any place. Although President Obama recently re-affirmed his commitment to closing Guantanamo, after eleven years commitments and words fall flat when justice demands action. 

In Matthew 5, Jesus lifts up those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness as “blessed.”  Without our providing them fair trials, the Gitmo prisoners’ cause is, I believe, indeed a hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and I believe God is with them in their suffering and plight as they call for trials, for release, for justice.   My prayer is not only that God is with them, blessing them, but that God would be with and bless us as we pressure our political leaders to close Gitmo and strive to become a nation and people of mercy.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” 


*Michael Neuroth  is Policy Advocate for International Issues for the Witness for Justice Ministries for  the United Church of Christ  which has 5,194 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.





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