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Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike; Pope Francis So Far

Aired May 14, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

The hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay prison has been going on for almost 100 days now and the vast majority of desperate prisoners, more than 100 of them, have chosen to starve themselves rather than face endless detention.

And we've been covering this story from the start, which really began back when President Obama promised to shut the prison down, one of his very first acts in office more than four years ago.

With the hunger strike and the legal black hole that keeps getting bigger, the president is now under mounting pressure to make good on that promise. And despite obstruction in Congress, to use the executive powers he has to immediately repatriate 86 of the detainees who've already been cleared for transfer.

The continued stalemate is not just legally wrong, but morally wrong, according to Col. Morris Davis, who was chief prosecutor at Guantanamo under President Bush, and he has just launched an online petition drive signed by more than 200,000 people so far to get the president to close the camp. And he'll join me in a moment.

But first, CNN's Chris Lawrence is at Guantanamo Bay right now. It's rare for a reporter to get clearance to visit the camp, and he's just spoken with a military commander there. Chris joined me on the phone a short time ago.


AMANPOUR: Chris, thanks for joining me from Guantanamo prison. What have the officials there been telling you right now about what's going on?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christiane, they claim that right now no detainees are being force-fed, as we understand it, that they're all taking the Ensure voluntarily. In other words, once they're strapped down, they're not fighting the process.

It's very different from what we've heard from a couple of the attorneys, who have said their clients are undergoing a very painful procedure then complaining about the tubes being too big, that they're restrained for long periods of time for observation afterwards. And so right now, it's (inaudible) of trying to reconcile those two views.

But right now, the officials here are saying about 30 detainees are being fed through the tube. But even the officials we spoke with already today admit that this is not designed to go on for very long.

Even an official just within the last couple hours admitted that this type of feeding is not designed to go on indefinitely, that eventually, there will be some ill effects and some damage to the body. So it really remains to be seen at the higher levels what will be done just sort of (inaudible) the situation here on Guantanamo Bay in a different direction.

AMANPOUR: So Chris, on the other hand, they're telling you that they're not being force-fed, but that they are, some of them, being fed through the tubes. We've been talking to defense attorneys and even a spokesman for the Southern Command last week. They did say that some of them were being force-fed.

LAWRENCE: Well, what they call force-fed is being given the Ensure, that liquid, piped down into the stomach. But what they are saying is once the detainees get to the chair where they are administered the Ensure, that they aren't fighting it at that point.

I did ask one of the officials how do they make sure that the detainees who don't want to be fed, how do they make sure they don't vomit up some of what they have just taken in?

And he said basically that they are required to stay in sort of an observation mode for a while while they monitor that Ensure, that that liquid has actually been digested in their stomach. So while the procedure itself may only take 20 to 30 minutes, in its entirety, with the observation period and everything, they may be held for up to a couple hours.

AMANPOUR: Do you get a sense of crisis there?

LAWRENCE: I think it's obviously a big issue. When the President of the United States has to come out and say publicly that he doesn't want these detainees to die, that's (inaudible) risen to a higher level. The problem and the issue is what to do.

The U.S. (ph) seems committed to the fact that they are not going to let these detainees die and the fact that the -- that many of the detainees that we've learned, in speaking with their attorneys, can also do access to some of their personal letters, we've learned that many of them are very frustrated at the fact that they have not had a hearing, that some of them have been languishing for years with no hope of any sort of trial or hearing or resolution to their cases.

Now feel that a hunger strike is the only way that they can bring attention to their detention here.

AMANPOUR: Chris, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

AMANPOUR: And Chris is going into the prison blocks, and we'll check in with him again tomorrow to find out what he saw inside.

And now turning to Col. Morris Davis, who was the military's chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay. He even prosecuted Osama bin Laden's driver. But anger, his anger, over the government's torture policy caused him to resign from his post and now he's demanding that the detainee camp be closed.

Thank you for joining me. Welcome.


AMANPOUR: First I want to ask you to parse what we just heard.

The military is trying to say that these people have got tubes being shoved down their throats, but they're not being force-fed.

DAVIS: Well, it's a standard military tactic. When I was a chief prosecutor, I couldn't use the term "torture." It was called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

AMANPOUR: Were you actually told that, that you used certain language?

DAVIS: We couldn't talk about -- you know, there were some suicide attempts. But we couldn't say "suicide attempt," so it was called "self- injurious behavior." So we try to repackage it to make it sound more antiseptic and nicer than it really is. But you know, being strapped in a chair and a tube shoved down your nose into your stomach is being force-fed by any definition of the term.

AMANPOUR: And as Chris said, they told him they even have to keep monitoring afterwards to make sure they don't vomit it up.

He also said that there's obviously a crisis; the president has had to come out and say that he doesn't want these people to die.

Do you think the pressure is reaching a critical mass right now whereby something will be resolved or not?

DAVIS: It seems to be. And I hate to get overly optimistic, because I've been optimistic in the past and, you know, here we sit in 2013, it's still going on. But there does seem to be momentum building behind it.

And it's unfortunate, I mean, it says something about America, that people have to risk their life to get us to pay attention to them, because the majority of the men at Guantanamo, 86 of the 166, are people that the FBI, DOJ, Department of Defense, CIA have looked at and said, didn't commit a crime; we're not going to charge them. They're not a threat and we don't want to keep them. They're --



DAVIS: -- yes, and they're still there. And many of them are having to risk death in order to get us to pay attention. And after a decade.

AMANPOUR: And now very powerful senators, Senator Levin on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Feinstein on the Intelligence Committee, they have asked the president as well to have these people transferred. That's within his executive power.

DAVIS: Yes. I think he's got to -- to use a Sarah Palin term -- he's got to "man up," because there's a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, where he can certify or the Secretary of Defense can certify that these people can be transferred out. But nobody wants to be left holding the bag.

It's inevitable: someone is going to screw up. Someone is going to do something bad. But if we're waiting till the risk is zero, we're never going to get there, and these guys are going to die.

AMANPOUR: So what are you saying on your petition? And you've got an amazing number, nearly a quarter of a million Americans have signed your petition.

DAVIS: Yes, I'm really pleased. The support has just been really surprising to me. It's on And we've had over 205,000 people have signed it. We're asking the president to do this, to keep his word.

I mean, I think -- you know, I'm disappointed that he didn't follow through on hope and change, but there are 166 men that are even more disappointed than I am, that, you know, he promised before he became president.

He was going to close Guantanamo. It was a non-partisan issue for a while. John McCain said he wanted to close it, yet it's still open because it became a political football and people are paying for it with their lives.

AMANPOUR: Now it is a real political football and the Congress has actually cut the president's funds to be able to actually transfer them. You're saying there are ways he could get around that, having the countries in question actually pay for it.

But let me ask you this. Some say, you know, you couldn't -- well, this lot have not been charged. So they are cleared for transfer. You actually prosecuted people inside Guantanamo, in those commissions.

And you got them convicted.

DAVIS: Well, and oddly enough, the ones that were convicted aren't at Guantanamo. They've been sent back to their home countries. Salim Hamdan, you mentioned, is a free man in Yemen. David Hicks was the first military commission case. He's a free man in Australia.

So it's a bizarre, perverted system of justice where being convicted of a war crime is your ticket home. And if you're never charged, much less convicted, you spend the rest of your life sitting at Guantanamo.

AMANPOUR: What has brought you to where you are right now? You're uniformed military; you were doing the Pentagon and the Justice Department's job of trying to prosecute, trying to take these cases to trial.

You were a good soldier. You said yes, sir. And now you're saying my country is wrong.

DAVIS: Right. Well, it makes no sense. I mean, fiscally, it's totally irresponsible. If you just look at the detainees that have been cleared at $800,000 or $900,000 per year per person, that's $75 million wasted on people that we don't want to keep. Policy wise or adversaries and our allies alike condemn Guantanamo.

Legally, every case that's come out of Guantanamo, from Rasul to Hamdan, to Boumediene, has been a black eye for the government. It's a recruiting tool for the other side. Federal courts have worked very effectively. Our federal prisons have been very secure.

So I just -- it's hard to see the upside to Guantanamo other than right-wing talking points to try to make the president look like he's weak on terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say right-wing talking points. Let me draw your attention to what you yourself wrote in 2007 at the height of your prosecutorial presence there in Guantanamo.

You said, "Guantanamo Bay is a clean, safe and humane place for enemy combatants. It is worth keeping." You also said it's a model prison; standards rival or exceed other prisons.

What happened?

DAVIS: Well, that's true. I was a bail bondsman before I went to law school. So I've seen a lot of jails and a lot of prisons, and there are a lot of Americans that are incarcerated, that if they saw Guantanamo, would change places. Because as a facility, it's about as good as it's going to get.

You know, they sent 40 medical personnel down to attend to 100 hunger strikers. You don't see that in most prisons. But it's not the physical conditions. It's the underlying legal basis that led to Guantanamo.

I mean, we went there because we thought it was outside the reach of the law. We've kept people there beyond the reach of the law for more than a decade. Our whole justification that we're at war and we're detaining the enemy is running out. You know, as we pull the troops out of Afghanistan in 2014, whatever credibility that argument has completely evaporates.

And we've got to live like Americans. We used to be known as the good guys. In the first war with Iraq, they surrendered by the tens of thousands rather than fight because they knew who we were. We need to regain that reputation.

AMANPOUR: Again, it's such a political football it's sort of not in my back yard; people here in the United States, certain governors and Congress people won't allow them to come into supermax prisons here, even though people say that that would be just plenty secure and also there is this idea of recidivism, the idea that if you send them back, despite the rehab facilities in places like Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, this is not a guarantee that they won't go back into the field and battle against Americans.

How do you answer that?

DAVIS: Well, a couple of ways. First off, we have never taken a detainee into the U.S. We've begged and bribed other countries to do it. Bermuda took some of the detainees. We're supposed to be the home of the brave.

We could at least be as brave as Bermuda and take a few ourselves. There have been no incidents; Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's nephew has been successfully incarcerated without incident. So it can be done. I think it's just fearmongering on the other side that want to use this as a political football.

But just to continue this charade of keeping Guantanamo open on this pretense that it's necessary to keep the country safe is a false narrative. So we used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. We've been the constrained and the cowardly. And we need to act like Americans and lead by example.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it'll take a death to change this? Do you think someone will be -- will manage to starve themselves to death there?

DAVIS: It certainly looks that way, but it's totally unnecessary. I mean, the president right now is faced with two bad choices, force-feeding or letting someone die. The viable option is that third choice, is to land a plane -- the Yemenis want their 56 detainees back.

AMANPOUR: Back to Yemen.

DAVIS: Yes, if you started sending some people home and there's some light at the end of the tunnel, and these guys felt like that they're not just abandoned and forgotten, I think the hunger strike would be over before dark.

AMANPOUR: And let's be clear that we're talking about people who've never been charged.

DAVIS: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: Col. Davis, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And among the many other problems plaguing the Guantanamo Bay prison, it's expensive, as Col. Davis just said. The facility costs American taxpayers $177 million a year or roughly $1 million per prisoner. Compare that to the cost of incarcerating even in a high-security official at a federal prison on U.S. soil. That's a relative bargain at $34,000 a year.

After a break, it has been two months since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio greeted the world as Pope Francis. Does his new name signal a new direction for the church? We'll explore when we come back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

And turning now to the new leader of a centuries-old institution, it's been two months since Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of the Vatican as the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. The pontiff was immediately seen as a sort of holy trailblazer. He's the first Jesuit pope. He's the first to take the name Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America.

Francis chose not to live in the papal residence. During the Easter rituals, he washed women's feet. The usual tradition is to wash the feet of men. And he also appointed a panel of cardinals to advise him and redefine the Vatican's hierarchy. The pope's task is to breathe new life into the church that's been rocked by sexual and financial scandal.

Father Thomas Rosica joins me now to discuss Francis' first decisions as pontiff and where he may lead the church in the future. He's not only a Catholic priest, he also had a front row seat during the papal transition as spokesperson for the Holy See.


FATHER THOMAS ROSICA: Thank you. It's good to be with you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Good to see you in New York. It was great to see you in Rome during the whole transition.

ROSICA: What an experience.

AMANPOUR: And what do you think now? What is your view of what the pope has accomplished in these first two months? I mean, a lot of people have seen a lot of change coming.

ROSICA: I think it's important to situate what's happened in the context of the liturgical seasons when all this happened. Nothing happened by naught.

So the season of Lent filled us all with that sense of purification, of expectation, of waiting, of renewal and then Easter came a little bit early. It was on March 13th, in fact, when all of us were in awe as we saw Cardinal Bergoglio appear on the loggia as Pope Francis.

AMANPOUR: As you thought he would be.

ROSICA: I had some hope. He was certainly well known and the signal that he's given us in these first months, these first two months, have been very clear signals.

Let me put it this way. I don't think that they're just the appetizer or whetting people's appetite, but rather he's given us some very clear directions for the church, a church called back to its origins, to its roots, to gospel simplicity, a church that's very concerned with how we're reaching out to the periphery.

He keeps on using that word, la periferia. I want to go out to the periphery. It's not just for those who are within, but it's for those who are lost, those on the fringes, those on the outside. And I think what we're seeing is the touch of a pastor. This is a bishop, a cardinal who walked among the poor, who was beloved in Argentina in those villas miserias, where he was so well known.

AMANPOUR: Poorhouses.

ROSICA: Poorhouses, these villas, these houses of misery. And now he's reminding us what we are about.

AMANPOUR: We'll talk about the periphery in a moment. But let's talk about the elite, the inside, the within because quite a lot of excitement has developed, or concern, maybe trepidation in the Vatican over the new advisory that he has convened to reorganize the hierarchy and even to rewrite, perhaps, the constitutional of the curia.

What is that all about? Why does he feel he needs to do that?

ROSICA: Those meetings that took place in the week before the conclave, what we call the congregazione, the congressional meetings, where all the cardinals were present, they were able to speak their mind. Most of that information remained confidential -- at least we hoped it did.

But I think what surfaced there are some of the urgent needs of the church, a church that has to be concerned with how we are relating to the world, how we communicate, but a church that's also concerned with internal governance issues. Perhaps we've suffered in that area in the past few years.

So what Pope Francis is doing is simply putting into practice many of the things he heard and that he's felt deep in his mind. Now this group of cardinals he's appointed early on in his -- the first month, he appointed a team of eight advisers.

He chose people carefully from each of the continents, people who were unafraid to speak, people who are seasoned pastors, who have experience. And he's going to rely on them. What he's showing us is the necessity of consultation, the necessity of collegiality, which is at the heart of the church --

AMANPOUR: And more transparency, maybe?

ROSICA: -- transparency and collegiality, because collegiality, which was one of the great gifts and fruits and hopes and desires of the second Vatican Council, needs to be on the front burner these days.

AMANPOUR: So are you breathing sort of new life into a possibly new Vatican council, a Vatican 2 again?

ROSICA: No, I think what we're doing is simply saying we've only just begun to understand Vatican 2. This is a pope, he's -- by the way, you mentioned all those firsts, which are absolutely right.

But this is the first pope who was ordained a priest after the second Vatican Council. If I'm not mistaken, 1969, he's ordained a priest; and thus this is somebody who studied in that strong theological Jesuit tradition in the years of the Council and after the Council. And so he's going to help us rediscover the richness of Vatican 2.

AMANPOUR: You know, there's a huge amount of talk about we'll never get to it all. But I'm absolutely fascinated by how he has looked at the world's workers, particularly in this time of austerity around the world and most particularly in the last few weeks, when that terrible Bangladesh garment factory collapsed. And he went out, in his public audience and on radio, and he called it "slave labor."

ROSICA: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And he has had a notoriously sort of supportive position for people and their rights. Tell me about that -- workers.

ROSICA: He's been very sensitive to the plight of the poor, from where he comes from in Argentina. He knows struggles of the rich and the poor, the great dichotomy that exists. And therefore he's bringing that pastoral wisdom to now preside over a world situation, not just in Buenos Aires and in his own country, but he's saying, look, there are injustices that must be addressed.

And the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May the 1st, he specifically addressed that situation. Another way that we're seeing his magisterium come forward, his teaching, his thrust, his energy, is through these daily homilies. We spoke about them before.

Many people are watching them. These are not just little ferverinos, as we say, that he's giving each morning in the Chapel of Santa Marta. But if we listen closely to the very simple but clear language he's using, we're seeing the great lines of the teaching, of a magisterium of the pope. He's using colloquial expressions.

He refers to his grandmother and the traditions he learned at home, those stories that he learned when he was growing up. And he's also telling us that religion is something very serious. It's not God spray. He's saying the church is not just a babysitter, but the church is a mother. He's talking about the seriousness that's required of Christians and also the joy that must be our outward manifestation.

AMANPOUR: Thirty seconds: is he going to be vastly different than Pope Benedict?

ROSICA: I think it's a very good question because a lot of people on the surface will say what tremendous differences. And they're judging the differences by externals. But if you look very carefully at what's happening, the papal transition, the papal succession, the apostolic tradition means a firmness and rootedness in the essentials.

And one of those essentials, belief in Jesus Christ, the fact that Jesus Christ is the leader of the church, the head of the church. And so we will see some outward signs that may be different and garments or clothing or living arrangements. But deep down inside, these are two men deeply in touch with one another and with the tradition that they represent, the apostolic tradition.

AMANPOUR: Father Thomas, thank you very much indeed. And stand by, because after we take a quick break, the pope's namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, once preached a sermon to a flock of birds. Today, Pope Francis has a far more modern method of reaching his flock. And we'll explain in just a moment.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, and I asked my guest, Father Rosica, to stay around for this, as we imagine a world where pope with a 13th century name has a 21st century domain. Pope Francis has his own website, And here's a twist on tithing to the church. It's the gift of a lawyer from Chicago, a city that's been notorious for sinners like Al Capone.

Three years ago, Chris Connors took a leap of faith and purchased the domain name. He hoped that one day there might actually be a Pope Francis. And so when Cardinal Jose Bergoglio chose the name in March, Connors offered to donate it free of charge. The Vatican said yes and the site is now online.

But long before the Internet, the prayer of St. Francis, the pope's namesake, spoke of peace and hope. And we'll leave you with its timeless message, sung by the very modern Sarah McLachlan.