by Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines
Dear Secretary Hagel:
On May 23, President Obama spoke of his efforts to close Guantanamo Bay and called on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from that facility. As Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to express my concern over the situation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
Media have reported on a hunger strike being conducted by about 100 detainees and forced feedings. It is my understanding that the hunger strike stems in large part from the fact that 86 of the 166 detainees were cleared for release three years ago and approved for transfer, but nonetheless remain confined in Guantanamo. According to the bipartisan 2013 report issued by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, many of these individuals have never been tried, despite spending up to 11 years in Guantanamo. With many now placed in solitary confinement, they are filled with despair.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church asserts: “Acts of terrorism strike at the heart of human dignity…; ‘there exists, therefore, a right to defend oneself from terrorism’. However, this right cannot be exercised in the absence of moral and legal norms, because the struggle against terrorists must be carried out with respect for human rights and for the principles of a State ruled by law. The identification of the guilty party must be duly proven, because criminal responsibility is always personal, and therefore cannot be extended to the religions, nations or ethnic groups to which the terrorists belong (No. 514).”…