By: Gus Navarro
On Sunday, via The Guardian, hip-hop artist Yasiin Bey released a video of protest in which he voluntarily underwent standard operating procedures for force-feeding in Guantánamo Bay.
This past February, the detainees in Guantánamo Bay went on a hunger strike, refusing the food placed in front of them. This was in response to when a search of cells by guards turned up hidden contraband among the prisoners but also led to accusations of heavy-handedness. The number of people participating in the strike has grown significantly since February and has now reached a total of 106 people and is continuing to grow. Of those involved in the strike, forty-one are now being force-fed so that they will be kept alive.
Force-feeding is a brutally invasive procedure where the prisoner has an IV inserted, is strapped to a chair and a tube is thrust into their nose. This allows the nutrients to flow into the body. More important to note however, is that this is a process that causes immense pain for the detainee and could easily be considered torture. In a New York Times editorial released through his lawyer, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a detainee since 2002, explains that he has yet to receive a trial, proclaims his innocence and describes the process of being force fed:
“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.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
The situation continues to intensify as the Obama Administration has made it clear that they would continue the force-feeding—even with the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan. On top of that, as stated by the Huffington Post:
“A U.S. federal judge ruled Monday that she lacks the authority to halt the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, while pointedly noting that the practice appears to violate international law and that President Barack Obama can resolve the issue.”
Regardless of your opinion on Guantánamo Bay, it is undeniable that these prisoners are being subjugated to outright cruelty. With that in mind, this circumstance must be critically examined and stopped immediately.
In the video, Yasiin Bey is seen in an orange jump suit, apprehensively eyeing the situation as he is strapped to a chair. As the procedure begins it is impossible to not to feel his nervousness as he begins to squirm and scream out in total suffering as the tube is shoved up his nose. Bey is unable to endure a second round of feeding, hysterically refusing between uncontrollable breaths and tears, a luxury clearly not provided to the people of the high security prison.
This was a socio-political demonstration from an artist that cannot be overlooked. It is here where Yasiin Bey is using his status as a respected MC to lead the charge against the injustices that people are facing all around the world, and in this case the prisoners of Guatánamo Bay. These are people that deserve a voice. As conditions at the prison and around the world worsen, Howard Zinn’s words come to mind,
“Very often rebellion starts in the culture. It starts with the poets and the writers. I’ve always been heartened by the fact that that the artists in society have almost always been on the side of peace and justice.” (Zinn, 2012, p. 158)
This was true in the 20th century as musicians, artists, actors and writers such as W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell played a huge role in providing the necessary expression of discontent that fueled social change. With their work, they were able to bring people together and move as one.
As the world begins to take notice, it is apparent that we need this again. It is of the utmost importance that we, as global participants come together and demand more from our institutions of government. Where are we getting our news from and why is this story surrounding the hunger strike, force-feeding and the Obama Administration’s promises to close Guatánamo Bay not getting significant play in the United States? We cannot wait for the media to provide us with information; we have to seek it out ourselves. On top of that, we as a society must demand more as our fellow human beings are being submitted to unspeakable atrocities that degrade and diminish their humanity. Don’t these incarcerated individuals deserve to at least have their voices heard and in some cases, receive a trial? We have to ask these highly critical questions of our society and hold people accountable in order to strive for a transformation of our culture. We can’t wait for our “leaders” to do it for us. As citizens of the world, we have to come together. Yasiin Bey’s video is shedding light on a situation in need of attention and serves as a poignant example that the platform provided to artists are essential for social change.