Protesters' illusion of power

By Mike Morefield
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 23, 2005

End Guantanamo Bay hunger strike?

Folding to a mob is the greatest sign of weakness an entity can show, whether it be a government or a company. At Guantanamo Bay prison, hunger strikes have become the preferred method of protest to show the government and outside organizations that the conditions of the prison are substandard.

These hunger strikes, like most methods of protests, are nothing more than an illusion of power. They cannot accomplish anything if the group protested against shows strong character and does not bend to the whims of the protesters.

This method of protest has some merit in history; the best example is Ghandi's hunger strike against the occupation of India. This worked because Ghandi had millions of followers who were concerned for his welfare.

Such is not the case in Guantanamo. These prisoners are not leaders of the masses - they are people who are awaiting trials for committing terrorist acts. If the government does not submit to this pathetic tactic, the prisoners will accomplish nothing. Let them starve.

These strikes provide power by rallying support, like when picketers collect people who support their cause. Protesting is only powerful in numbers, something these suspected combatants don't have.

What effect would it have if the people in the hunger strike starved themselves to death? The headlines would anticlimactically state, "100 enemy combatants die of their own volition, prison continues."

The U.S. government has already begun force-feeding 21 people in the recent strike, and this takes away their power. Do not act like a scolding nanny and rap them on the wrists for not eating their vegetables. Take the authority you have provided yourself and force them to abide by your rules, as a true authoritarian should.

This is a prison - the government has the ability to force its will upon those inside the gates. It should do so. The prisoners will reach a point where the will to live will take over; the will to survive is the strongest instinct imposed upon us by our reptilian brain. Even if they have the ability to stave off the hunger and delirium, they will be force fed and put right back into the general population, no closer to any political goals.

This is not the time to play hesitant autocrat; this is an all or nothing venture, nothing less than 100 percent can be used. It would be a blatant sign of weakness to allow these protests to succeed, and it is surprising the entire penal system isn't rampant with prisoners denying their green bologna.

Guantanamo needs to take a page from former President Reagan's strike-busting days against the air traffic controller's union. When the National Air Traffic Controllers Association went on strike, Reagan exerted the heavy hand necessary to suppress their agenda. Reagan fired the strikers and replaced them, removing all the power they thought they had.

Strikes are only an illusion of power, and Guantanamo must remove this illusion and assume its rightful position: a strong stance against falling to these protesters.

Although this tactic of exerting power because you have taken the responsibility to wield it sounds very Machiavellian, it is the position into which the U.S. government has placed itself. By imprisoning these people, holding them against their wills and denying them rights, the government must exert sufficient force to control them.

Prisons run on a rigid structure of control and power, and by placing themselves as the power wielders, they have bound themselves to rule with absolute authority. If that means crushing the prisoners' false sense of power by force-feeding protesters or allowing them to refuse meals until madness ensues, then so be it.

Protesters can starve until they feel empowered, but the government should never allow itself to negotiate with a weak force of enemy combatants in one of its own prisons.

Washington, stand strong in your resistance to their methods of false control. Protesters be warned: When a protest is running through the minds of those daring few who wish to buck the system because of bad conditions, always remember that the present conditions will feel like fresh linens and turkey dinners compared to the unfathomable levels of deprivation to come when you have humiliated all those who have power over you.

Mike Morefield is a political science senior. He can be reached at