News that the military is breaking hunger strikes by force-feeding detainees at Guantanamo Bay would be a lot easier for Americans to handle if there were more assurance that all the 500 or so men jailed there were held for legitimate reasons. With trials in limbo, America's image in the rest of the world tarnishes more each day. Now the United Nations will issue a report calling some treatment there torture.
Force-feeding, while justified if done humanely, won't help. Military officials have confirmed that many of the 84 detainees staging hunger strikes to protest their indefinite confinement were strapped into special restraint chairs, fed through tubes, and kept immobile to thwart their earlier practices of vomiting after compulsory feeding.
The military defends the practice because it thwarts health problems and suicides. Defense attorneys who have visited detainees say the feeding is done so painfully that the number of hunger strikers has dropped from 84 to four. There's no way for outsiders to be sure whether a necessary practice is being done in unnecessarily rough ways.
Accounts of force-feeding, though, follow recent detailed reports in the National Journal, a nonpartisan policy publication, that debunk assertions by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that all the detainees were picked up on battlefields, mostly in Afghanistan. It turns out that many were turned in by warlords and biased villagers for rewards.
Although noting that some of the 256 men released so far rejoined Taliban forces, and that the detainees undoubtedly include terrorists, the Journal reported its review of federal court files on 132 of the military detainees showed that more than half are nonbattlefield captives who someone fingered.
While some U.N. members have anti-American political agendas, its report calls Washington's justification for the continued detention a distortion of international law. It also urges the United States to close the Cuba prison and bring the captives to trial on U.S. territory. Does America really want to be on the wrong side of the legal equation?
Four to five years of imprisonment and interrogation ought to be enough to identify the terrorists or the innocent. With every allegation that surfaces, America's reputation suffers.