The hunger strike by prisoners at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo calls attention once more to a maddening problem that the Obama administration, Congress and the public would prefer not to think about: What to do with 166 captives confined to an island prison with de facto life sentences under a judicial system that they deem unfair and unjust?
Protests of one sort or another inside the island prison have been ongoing practically since the day the first detainees arrived in January 2002. As time goes by, the protests have become better organized and more widespread as frustration deepens among detainees. Some of them have been confined for more than a decade and still see no end to the adjudication process. Nor can anyone say with certainty when their cases will be concluded, nor reasonably predict the ultimate fate of the detainee population.
No surprise, then, that Guantanamo has become a powerful symbol of injustice for many people around the world, particularly Muslims, including those who otherwise bear no ill will toward the United States. For terrorists, the prison has long been a valuable recruiting tool. Congress has been perfectly content to let this all happen without contributing useful ideas for dealing in a fair, humane manner with accused terrorists caught overseas.
The underlying cause of the strike is the hopelessness of detainees. To ease tensions, President Obama should make Guantanamo more transparent and more adherent to the rule of law. Before all else, though, the focus must be on ending the hunger strike before the protest produces more martyrs for the cause of terrorism.