CNN Touts Gitmo Prisoner's 'Powerful' Op-Ed

This is CNN, where terror detainees at Guantanamo get better press treatment than social conservatives defending traditional marriage.

On Monday afternoon, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes both touted an op-ed by a Guantanamo prisoner titled "Gitmo Is Killing Me," where he tells of his hunger strike and complains of being force-fed, while held without trial for 11 years. Malveaux hailed it as a "powerful piece" and Holmes questioned U.S. hypocrisy on human rights:

"I suppose politically it's a difficult [issue] for the U.S. too. Sort of how does the U.S. criticize other countries' human rights when they have got somebody in their custody saying I haven't even been charged with anything for 11 years?"

If Holmes and Malveaux had journalistic scrutiny, they didn't show much of it. Even after Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence provided background details on Guantanamo and gave the military's side of the story, Holmes again questioned the U.S. human rights record.

"Really does hurt U.S. in terms of what it can say to other countries about human rights. They can turn around and say that," Holmes remarked. "And it's so controversial," Malveaux hyped the story. "Every administration, President Bush, now President Obama, they've been trying to close Gitmo down, and it is a very difficult thing for them to do."

"I talked with an official here," Lawrence had noted of Guantanamo Bay. "He said the people who are left now, the 166, are the ones who need to be there. They continue to be a danger."

And in more than a touch of irony, Lawrence relayed the Pentagon's criticism of the media "who willfully pass along enemy propaganda under the guise of an editorial."

Contrast CNN's willingness to give a terror detainee the benefit of the doubt with their treatment of supporters of traditional marriage. Anchor Zoraida Sambolin once railed against the Family Research Council as "hate spewing hate." Anchor Brooke Baldwin asked Tony Perkins "Why do homosexuals bother you so much?"

A CNN panel recently compared supporters of traditional marriage with segregationists and slave owners. Former host Soledad O'Brien called the Boy Scout ban on openly-gay Scouts "discriminatory" and asked Perkins if he worried he'd be "on the wrong side of history" for supporting it.

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on April 15 at 12:07 p.m. EDT:

[12:07]

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: The op-ed is entitled "Gitmo Is Killing Me." This is a very powerful piece. It's published in the New York Times by a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. And in it he writes, "I've been on a hunger strike since February 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds."

MICHAEL HOLMES: Yeah, he says "I will not eat until they restore my dignity." Now, this prisoner says he's been jailed for more than 11 years, has never received a trial. He's not even being charged with anything, he says. "I could have been home years ago," he said. "No one seriously thinks I'm a threat. But still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a guard for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense." He goes onto say he became sick last month and refused to eat. In the op-ed he describes being force-fed.

MALVEAUX: "They tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night as late as 11:00 p.m. I want to bring in our Chris Lawrence from the Pentagon to explain this very unusual, that you hear from a prisoner of war in an op-ed. How did this come about? And is there any response to what he is going through, or what he alleges he is going through inside Gitmo?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN Pentagon correspondent: This isn't normal, first of all, Suzanne. But there's nothing normal about the situation down at Gitmo, especially recently. Just over the weekend there was violence broke out between some of the inmates and the guards because of what the inmates consider that hunger strike. Basically what had happened, in speaking to some of the officials, is the inmates had disabled some of the cameras in their cells, in their individual cells.

And so the decision was made to move them out of these communal areas and put everyone into sort of single cells. That didn't go over so well with some of the prisoners. I'm told at least one of the prisoners was able to fashion a sort of baton made out of shredded water bottles and Scotch-taped up. There were some bruises on several prisoners in the altercation with the guards. Also one of the prisoners suffered a laceration. So this has been a period of heightened tension, so to speak, between some of the prisoners who are on this hunger strike and then some of the guards as well.

HOLMES: Yeah. Chris, I suppose politically it's a difficult one for the U.S. too. Sort of how does the U.S. criticize other countries' human rights when they have got somebody in their custody saying I haven't even been charged with anything for 11 years? You've been down there. You've seen the conditions there. Tell us about it.

LAWRENCE: Well, let's lay it out. First of all, there are 166 prisoners left right now at Guantanamo Bay. I talked with an official here who said, look, despite what was written in the editorial, he said all of the so-called sold-in-prisoners are long gone. Those are the guys who got ratted out by rivals trying to get them in trouble. He said they're long gone. He said the people who are left now, the 166, are the ones who need to be there. They continue to be a danger. Of those 166, 43 are determined to be hunger striking right now. But only 13 are being fed intravenously like this prisoner is having done. They say – the officials here at the Pentagon say most of those 13 just sit in the chair, they get the meals usually twice a day. And it doesn't happen like that. There is no fighting. There is no, you know, sort of altercation. But they say they do follow the Bureau of Prison's protocols in that if they are being detained, they feel they have a obligation to make sure that they are being fed. And if they miss more than nine meals, they're considered to be on a hunger strike. And they have to be fed.

MALVEAUX: So, Chris, what are they going to do with this particular detainee? How are they explaining how this has all come about?

LAWRENCE: Well, basically they're pushing back on this whole op-ed. I just want to read a little clip from one of the Pentagon officials' pushback on this who say unlike those in the press who willfully pass along enemy propaganda under the guise of an editorial, unlike a few members of the Defense bar who would hold their detainee clients up for public curiosity, the department does not discuss these individual detainees who are not currently before the military commissions. So other words he's not before a commission right now. But, again, that ties into his argument saying, you know, I've been here for 11 years and I'm still not before trial.

HOLMES: Yeah. Extraordinary. Chris, thanks so much. Appreciate that. Chris Lawrence there at the Pentagon. Really does hurt U.S. in terms of what it can say to other countries about human rights. They can turn around and say that.

MALVEAUX: And it's so controversial. Every administration, President Bush, now President Obama, they've been trying to close Gitmo down, and it is a very difficult thing for them to do. Lots of negotiations with various countries. So, not easy.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014