By Omar Farah
"As far I'm concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they don't do that, they can rot in Guantanamo Bay," concluded Senator Tom Cotton in a combative line of questioning yesterday at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Guantanamo. Other than his reflexive hatred of my clients, the Arkansas Senator's remark made something else abundantly clear -- he has never met any of them. If he had met Tariq Ba Odah, for example, Mr. Cotton would know there is little difference between hell and Tariq's isolation cell at Guantanamo's Camp 5.
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Tariq arrived at Guantanamo in 2002 when Mr. Cotton was a 25-year-old law student. While Mr. Cotton was an associate at prestigious law firms, while he was a management-consultant, during his tenure in the House, and as he won election to the Senate, Tariq has been, as Mr. Cotton put it so well, "rotting" at Guantanamo. As of this month, Tariq has been on a hunger strike for eight years. Guantanamo prison staff force-feeds him every day. Tariq also goes on "no wash" protests, refusing to leave his cell, shower, or cut his nails for months in order to manifest the horror he is living.
Tariq protests in this manner precisely because Guantanamo is hell. At the island prison, he is subjected to solitary confinement, daily tube feedings through his nose, and violent cell extractions, all without ever having been charged with a crime, tried, or allowed the mercy of knowing the length of his sentence. Tariq has survived 13 years at Guantanamo. Whether he must survive another 13 weeks, months or years -- an eternity under his present circumstances -- no one knows. Whether his cell one day becomes his coffin, as Mr. Cotton's would prefer, is anyone's guess. The anguish this uncertainty produces is hellish indeed. It is also entirely unwarranted.