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11/20/2013

Feast or famine - the Guantanamo quagmire

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A Camp 6 detainee during a 2010 "recreation" break. MICHELLE SHEPHARD/ TORONTO STAR

One of the biggest problems in Guantanamo today is obesity, Republican Senator James Inhofe told the U.S. Senate Tuesday. "They're eating better than they've ever eaten at any other time in their life," he said.

This is not the first time Inhofe has used this line. In 2011, he told "Fox and Friends," about Gitmo's supposed obesity epidemic, adding, "I mean, you know, you've got to draw the line somewhere. Let's draw it here.”

Hearing this comment amid Tuesday's debate on the fate of the remaining 164 detainees - more than half of whom have been cleared for release by the Pentagon - is just about as insulting as protests from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (you may have heard he is a bit controversial after admitting to smoking crack) and his councillor brother Doug, that the mayor just needs to lose some weight and take it easy on consuming a "few pops," eh?

It is also typical of the Guantanamo discussion, that is heavy on hysterical hyperbole, light on reasoned debate.

Putting aside, however, the obvious fact that overeating is not one of the biggest problems, food consumption at Guantanamo has been a newsworthy issue because of what it represents. Last month, a lawyer for Egyptian detainee Tariq El-Sawah, argued his client should be released on medical grounds, having nearly doubled in weight during his 11-year captivity, reaching more than 420 pounds.

As Associated Press reporter Ben Fox reported, El-Sawah has received letters of recommendation from three former Guantanamo commanders, "a rare, if unprecedented, string of endorsements." Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jay Hood called him a unique prisoner who was "unlike the violent Islamic extremists who formed much of the population at Guantanamo." Rear Adm. David Thomas, noted his "restricted mobility due to obesity and other health issues" in recommending his release.

On the other end of the spectrum there are the hunger-striking detainees. More than 100 prisoners refused food this summer in an attempt to draw attention to their plight.

These stories highlight that nearly 11 years after Guantanamo was created and four years after U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to close it, the facility remains open and detainees held indefinitely.

And yet as reporter Bradley Klapper explains, the Senate remains "paralyzed" on what to do about Guantanamo as "politics loomed large" Tuesday. Meanwhile, the 84 men the Pentagon have cleared for release remain behind bars.

Doesn't Guantanamo need a solution, not a diet?

 

Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm

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Build a new prison in Alaska somewhere. Voila, The Gitmo problem is solved.

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