That Hunger Strike at Gitmo is a 'Real Crisis', Rachel Maddow Worries

More potential jihadist attacks against American civilians in the wake of the Boston bombings? Not worthy of further attention from Rachel Maddow. Instead, Maddow is more concerned with that "real crisis" down at Guantanamo, of prisoners starving themselves.

If future media critics ever want a quintessential example of the Maddow show, they could do worse than watch her program from April 30, 2013. And after cringing through it, they'll want a bleach bath. (Video clip after page break)

Before weighing in on Gitmo, Maddow played gitty up on one of her favorite hobby horses, the Bush-Cheney junta resorting to "torture" against al Qaeda, as detailed in what she described as a "big non-partisan review" released earlier this month that was "non-partisan" only to Bush haters like Maddow.

"And even though President Obama has washed himself clean of things like the torture perogative which was claimed by the last president," Maddow said, "the fact that no one was ever prosecuted for torturing anyone means that it is essentially just a policy preference that we do not torture now. The political and legal precedent has been established that if you do torture people, even if the advice goes all the way to the president of the United States, the United States will not mind. We just elect to not do it anymore, so a future president might feel differently. It will be his or her perogative to choose that or not, as they see fit."

Fortunately for all, President Obama chose not to follow this ignominious path, deciding right out of the gate to eschew the policies/war crimes of the Bush administration. Or has he?

Maddow's conversation with her next guest, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, upended one of the left's most beloved myths about Obama's alleged moral superiority to his predecessor.

The conversation between Maddow and Rosenberg is included in its entirety in the video embedded here, since it must be seen in full to appreciate its unintended dark humor and lunacy.  Rosenberg has been called "the institutional memory of Guantanamo," Maddow touted, based on her extensive reporting from the prison. Clearly she's a person to be reckoned with when it comes to Gitmo.

Turns out things are far from rosy at the offshore prison for admitted and suspected terrorists. Of the 166 prisoners there, roughly 100 are taking part in a hunger strike. Twenty of these are being force-fed, which the American Medical Association has condemned as inhumane.

Prior to the hunger strike starting in February, Rosenberg said, "communal was the norm" and groups of detainees numbering eight to a dozen "got to eat together, pray together, watch TV together." The "vast majority" of detainees were in "medium security confinement" -- which sounds reasonable enough when the only places to escape are communist-held Cuba and the shark-infested waters surrounding it -- and "the guards were on the outside looking in," Rosenberg said, while "the detainees were on the inside organizing their own lives," whatever the hell that means.

Things started getting tense once the hunger strike was underway, Rosenberg said. To protest the presence of surveillance cameras in their cells, Gitmo prisoners covered the cameras with cereal boxes. "If you listen to the (detainees') attorneys," Rosenberg said, "this was considered a sign of distress. They believed their conditions had gotten to be so bad they wanted someone to intervene."

What some interpret as distress, others might see as deception. Gitmo guards, many of whom presumably have seen "The Shawshank Redemption" and other movies involving escapes from prison while the guards weren't paying attention, decided to remove the cereal boxes from the detainees' surveillance cameras, a war crime if ever there was one, providing the president's last name is Bush.

Talk about making a bad situation worse. Next thing you know there's a "shakedown" at Gitmo, Rosenberg tells Maddow, with guards going into cells and taking legal documents, "family photos" (two jihadists share photos of their children. One man sighs to the other -- they blow up so fast, don't they?). Things got so bad that guards were confiscating "electronic equipment" no one knew "how these detainees had gotten," Rosenberg said. (Any of that gear equipped with GPS?). The prisoners could no longer wear watches, Rosenberg said, a "perk" previously used to help control them.

All of which overwhelmed detainees, Rosenberg said, describing this in language that could apply to a dispute over housing or a divorce settlement. "They felt they had lost benefits," she said, along with "a quality of life that they've become accustomed to."

Maddow's bottomless capacity for empathy was on full display as she listened to these tales of woe. (Maddow would devote more than half the show last night to Guantanamo). What's going on here, she said, is "a real crisis with all these prisoners refusing food." But does it also constitute a form of "speech" to protest indefinite detention, Maddow asked Rosenberg.

"I think all sides agree that the shakedown was the spark," Rosenberg answered. "But the underlying issue is frustration" for detainees, many held captive for longer that a decade.

While Obama was never cited by name, he was present throughout the conversation by implication. Prior to conditions getting "so bad" for prisoners in the last three months, Rosenberg said, their detention might easily be mistaken for a "dorm room atmosphere." Not anymore -- now the prisoners can't congregate, share family photos or experiment with "electronic equipment," nor could they enjoy the privacy of their prison cells without guards actually monitoring them. A hunger strike in response to such draconian measures was inevitable.

All of which begs the question -- when is the Obama administration going to stop torturing these people? At the risk of stating the obvious, this heinous practice isn't limited to waterboarding the defiant al Qaeda lieutenant to prevent an American city from being incinerated. It takes many forms (for me, it includes sitting through "Project Runway" with my wife). Clearly what is happening now at Gitmo is torturous for its detainees, especially since the definition of torture was broadened beyond recognition over the last decade courtesy of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

I look forward to the chorus of indignation on MSNBC demanding at end to Obama's torture policies at Gitmo, secure in the knowledge I'll never hear it, not even sung softly late at night.

As timing would have it, out the detainees at Guantanamo aren't the only ones getting a raw deal from Obama. So are our own wounded warriors, according to Maddow's only other guest last night, Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The average waiting time for veterans to receive benefits has risen from 161 days in 2009 to 262 last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. A veteran in Boston filing a claim for disability benefits will wait nearly 18 month. "The problem has been building for years," Maddow said. "The VA has been assuring everyone for years that they're working on it, but the facts remain that the problem as gotten worse. The problem has continued to get worse, not better, year after year."

Sixty-seven senators from both parties this week sent a letter to Obama asking that he take "direct action and involvement" to end the huge veterans' claims backlog -- and if there's anything that gets things done in Washington, it's a forcefully signed letters from lawmakers to the president. If only Michelle Obama had stayed focused on our veterans, as she once so earnestly was.

It will take Obama intevening to end the backlog, Rieckhoff told Maddow. "That's why we need the president to step up," he said. "We've heard from everyone basically except the president."

Rieckhoff, a frequent Maddow guest, was persuasive as always in advocating for veterans. But his appearance last night on her show was surely no coincidence. And it did little to dispel the perception that Obama is more concerned with the jailed jihadists at Guantanamo than with the wounded warriors at home.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts