Vietnam vet calls Guantanamo immoral

Elliott Adams describes himself as a patriotic American who loves his country.

And that, stresses the combat veteran of the Vietnam War, is what drives him to speak out against the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which he concludes is both illegal and immoral.

"This is not the America I grew up in," said the nationally known activist. "This doesn't represent the American flag I salute. It does not reflect the principles of freedom I know.

"Holding somebody under conditions of torture indefinitely without trial and without charge, this violates our Constitution that has been in place more than 200 years," he said. "This is not the kind of people we are."

The prison at the base known as "Gitmo" serves as a recruiting poster for terrorists bent on attacking the United States, he said. It was there where suspected terrorists were housed following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States.

Adams, 66, who went on an 80-day hunger strike that ended Aug. 4 in an attempt to bring attention to the prison, will give a free lecture on the Gitmo prisoners at 7 tonight in Medford. The event will be held in Lidgate Hall, Medford Congregational United Church of Christ, 1801 E. Jackson St., Medford.

Adams, who lives in Sharon Springs, N.Y., joined the Army when he was 18. As a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, he soon found himself in combat in the central highlands of Vietnam.

"At the time, I believed I was doing the right thing for my country," he said, noting his attitude toward war has changed since those days.

"It has been a long, slow process," said the past president of national Veterans For Peace. "It took me a long time to figure out that war was not the solution. It just works for the few people who make a vast amount of money from it."

The former enlisted man — he was discharged as a private second class after a few run-ins with the brass — became a soldier for peace, speaking out across the country. He was also active in his community, becoming president of the school board, mayor of Sharon Springs and president of the local Rotary Club. He and Ann, his wife of 40 years, have a daughter.

As he watched events unfold at the prison at Gitmo, his concern grew.

"I became well aware it is a violation of international law as well as our national laws," he said. "The concept was to find one place in the world where the laws did not apply."

Of the 166 prisoners still being held at Guantanamo, 86 were cleared for release over a year ago but remain in custody, according to

More than 100 detainees began a hunger strike in February to protest. Of those, 69 remain on strike, with 45 of those being force-fed, and three are in the hospital.

"A hunger strike is a classic example of free speech," Adams said, noting that being force-fed is perceived as torture by many around the world. "But our government has decided to force-feed some of them. This is pure desperation."

Yet many detainees have been declared free to be released because they don't pose a threat, he said.

"But they aren't releasing them," he said, noting they are being held without charges or a trial.

"These people have come to reasonably believe the only way out is in a pine box," he said. "They have gone on a hunger strike to protest their treatment."

President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility following a meeting with Yemen President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi in August, according to a White House press release. The two governments have agreed to work together to facilitate the repatriation of Yemeni detainees who have been designated for transfer, the release said.

Adams said his 80-day fast (300 calories a day) was in solidarity with the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

"I wanted to bring attention to what was happening there," said Adams, who testified before the congressional Judiciary Committee this past summer about the Gitmo prisoners.

Just before his congressional testimony, more than two dozen retired military leaders submitted a letter urging members of the committee to support steps closing the facility.

"I think we've come a long way to get people to pay attention to this," Adams said. "But we are not close to the end. We need to get more and more people to understand what is happening in Gitmo.

"What I would like to see is America operate by the principles of justice we believe in," he added.

Adams' presentation is being organized and sponsored by Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace Chapter 156 and Citizens for Peace & Justice of Medford.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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