Archive for category Guantanamo
Speech from the January 9, 2014 event at All Souls Church in NYC
There are two pertinent questions which demand answers if we are to force the U.S. to close the illegal torture camp at Guantánamo, and go on to end indefinite detention by the United States.
Why did the Bush regime open it in 2002 in a U.S. military base set in Guantánamo Bay on a colonized piece of Cuban land seized from Cuba at the culmination of its war of independence from Spain, known here as the Spanish-American War, in 1898?
And why are sections of the U.S. ruling class holding onto this prison so tightly, even expanding its infrastructure, that Obama’s six year old promise to close it has become a cruel joke to most of the men who were there when he campaigned in 2008?
In the frenzy of the so-called “war on terror” framed for public consumption by the Bush Regime, those of you over 25 or so remember some things we saw in 2001: sweeps of men who appeared to be Muslim off streets from Brooklyn to Karachi, deported and detained.
What was then invisible was a quickly thrown together network of U.S. secret prisons across Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East, with “ghost” CIA planes rendering men grabbed in one country to be tortured or disappeared in another. Men from dozens of countries were moved around the world secretly; we know of more than 100 killed in U.S. custody from Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib.
“Dick” Cheney, Bush’s vice president and henchman, talked of a war that would last “generations,” and said the U.S. had to be ready to go to the “dark side” using, “basically, any means necessary to achieve our objectives.”
Less than four months after 9/11, the Bush regime announced that it was opening a prison camp at its base in Cuba to house the “worst of the worst,” enemies of the United States.
Almost 800 men were sent there, most haphazardly as a result of the U.S. offering $5,000 bribes to warlords and others to turn in pilgrims, farmers, and some would-be fighters (including some originally trained and funded by the U.S. against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan). Three of these prisoners were 13-15 years old.
Thanks to Chelsea Manning for leaking the Guantánamo Detainee Assessment Briefs, and to Andy Worthington for analyzing them, we know with certainty that very few of the men should ever have been taken by the U.S., much less held for twelve years now without any justice.
Why Guantánamo Bay? Because the U.S. government considered it “outside U.S. legal jurisdiction” ― meaning that the laws and rights supposedly guaranteed to prisoners, including “prisoners of war,” would not apply.
While they imprisoned many more men, and tortured and killed secretly in Bagram, Afghanistan and black sites around the world, the U.S. needed a place to openly defy international norms. CIA operatives “joked” that the name for Guantánamo’s prison should be “Strawberry Fields” because the U.S. could hold prisoners there “forever,” as the Beatles song goes.
Sometime during the Bush years, World Can’t Wait activists were in an African American high school class in Chicago, speaking about Guantánamo. The teacher asked the students, “Why do you think Bush set up Guantánamo?” One of the activists told me recently that a kid in the back of the room raised his hand, and said, “LYNCHING.”
When the teacher asked why he made that comparison, he answered, “When Black people were lynched in the South, it wasn’t so much what any one person had done. Lynching was done to terrorize everyone and keep the system of Jim Crow in place.”
So from that wise young man, himself living in the epicenter of mass incarceration, with the U.S. being Jailer #1, we get the essence: Guantánamo the prison camp was intended not just to imprison captives but to send a message to the entire world that the U.S. could do whatever it wants to whomever it wants.
Guantánamo was not a “mistake” of Bush going too far, and it’s not something that can be moved or mended with reforms. The word Guantánamo has become synonymous with torture, unjust detention, brutality, and inhumane degradation. Some forces in the U.S. ruling class are fine with that; others like Obama may find it inconvenient or embarrassing. But it’s a system problem, not a politician problem.
But why? A friend who works every day on closing Guantánamo asked me about a month ago, why, really, it’s not being closed. She said, “I know it’s not being kept open just to enrich private contractors. Do you think it has something to do with imperialism?”
Yes, ma’am, I do. The U.S. has global ambitions and interests – not the same as our interests – which demand extension of its empire of capitalist-imperialist globalization to massively exploit billions around the world. This is what the huge military is to protect; this is what the mirage of “democracy” covers for. Controlling the Middle East, and keeping other powers from controlling it, is key to their strategy.
The U.S. and its wars are reacting to the increasing instability in the Middle East/Central Asian regions. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism is a destabilizing pole of opposition to U.S. empire ― and an ideology putting itself forward as an alternative to U.S.-led capitalist globalization and bourgeois democracy.
These Islamic forces ― which are completely reactionary and represent the old order, both feudal and bourgeois ― don’t fundamentally oppose foreign capital, and they are horrible for the people, especially women, but their interests clash in various ways, and often sharply, with the U.S. and its regional clients.
To be clear, the U.S. itself has done far more damage, with its little weekly 9/11s in the region, with every drone strike and with the destruction of two whole countries. The wars fought to destroy Iraq & Afghanistan, and which are spreading into Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and further into Africa, are illegitimate, unjust and immoral, utilizing torture and indefinite detention as a way of terrorizing whole populations.
As we’ve learned seven months ago, they are backing this up with vast surveillance of whole populations, without apology.
But why hasn’t Obama followed through on his promise to close the camp? It may even be that the promise was genuine, in that Guantánamo doesn’t fit with the image, in opposition to Bush, of a multicultural, diverse imperialism. But we know Obama has had no trouble ordering targeted killing, whether or not Congress agreed (and they do).
One reason Obama essentially ignored the status of Guantánamo for so long — until the hunger strike of 2013 — is because he has directed U.S. policy to focus on killing, not capturing, those targeted by the U.S. as opponents ― especially through the use of drones.
John Bellinger, himself a war criminal and an official in the Bush administration who helped draw up the initial U.S. policy on use of drones, recently said, “This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida [at Guantánamo], they are going to kill them.” And these drone strikes during the years of Obama’s presidency have killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, including children.
Whatever their needs, we should NOT back off on demanding Obama and Congress release ALL the cleared prisoners immediately, so that Guantánamo doesn’t remain a Yemeni detention center. We should continue to demand that those men whom the administration says they will neither charge, try, nor release — and we know this is because they were tortured — should be charged, given fair trials, or released.
We demand an end to indefinite detention in our name. And those secret military commissions — the tribunals Obama says were an improvement on the Bush commissions — are no damn good, either!
I must add a note, based on discussion with many students who are cynical after having lived only during the Bush & Obama years. All societies do not torture. Torture is not a part of a non-existent “human nature.” Human societies can do better, and outlaw it, and never use it, for real.
Reading from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, Draft Proposal, in a long section on the rights liberties of the people, this promise of a new society — from Bob Avakian’s party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, says, on page 74: “Cruel and unusual punishment, including torture, shall be prohibited.” This document also abolishes the death penalty, and envisions not mass incarceration, but a system of liberation.
Contrast that with a system where in the White House, leaders discuss what extremes — like cutting the penis of Binyam Mohammed — they can get away with. Where the president makes lists of who gets killed, and runs a system of plausible deniability when thousands of civilians are killed. Where this revolting mass popular culture idolizes an NYC born actress who plays a CIA agent on Homeland, and where millions hung on every episode of 24 — and which is coming back on air.
12 years after the prison camp/torture center was founded, the message the world is receiving from Guantánamo is not of the American empire’s invincibility, but of its limitless cruelty.
The 100 plus men hunger striking on the verge of death, strapped into chairs with tubes shoved into and yanked out of their bodies, locked in cages in a remote prison camp, have brought to millions a focused picture of the hideous features of American “justice.”
They have shown that even in the most arduous and unbearable of circumstances it is possible to stand up to the swaggering might of the American military.
The real interests of the vast majority of people in this country are to oppose the crimes of the U.S. empire ― to stop thinking like Americans and start thinking about humanity, and to act on that conviction.
We are not giving up on the mission of closing this open insult to humanity that is Guantánamo.
Speaking for World Can’t Wait, we will unite with everyone — with those who worked for the U.S. government as lawyers, guards, and soldiers, but who criticized and broke with the torture state;
with revolutionaries & others consciously working to bring about a different world;
with those so young that they don’t remember the Bush years;
with those prisoners locked in the American gulag who know all too well the torture of solitary confinement,
and with the billions around the world who really know that the world can’t wait.
What’s coming out of the Obama administration on its intentions re targeted killing v indefinite detention of suspects is getting more complicated. Obama, in a stirring defense of empire disguised as something else, told the world two weeks ago at the United Nations
The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.
Obama’s May 23 speech, the one he was forced to delay because of the Guantanamo prison hunger strike, Obama set out broader parameters for those who could be targeted — as he argued, legally — for killing. Obama defended broad executive authority to kill targets, perhaps even more widely than he has previously. His speech amounted to an argument for, and announcement of a permanent infrastructure for assassination. As the McClatchy newspaper put it,
“In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed ‘senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces’ plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.
“But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from ‘those who want to kill us’ and ‘terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat’ to ‘all potential terrorist targets.’”
Saturday U.S. forces grabbed one of the FBI’s most-wanted suspects in Libya, abu Anas al-Libi. The Libyan government, which the U.S. installed through its 2011 “humanitarian intervention” may or may not have been involved, but is now raising protests that the rights of tge prisoner are not being respected, because he’s being interrogated on a U.S. ship away from the reach of Libyan, or international, law.
The Associated Press asks, Did Obama swap ‘black’ detention sites for ships? saying, “Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end.” Further
“It appears to be an attempt to use assertion of law of war powers to avoid constraint and safeguards in the criminal justice system,” said Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of the civil rights organization’s national security project. “I am very troubled if this is the pattern that the administration is setting for itself.”
John Bellinger in Lawfare notes
Because Article 22 of the Third Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war “may be interned only in premises located on land,” Obama Administration lawyers must have concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Warsame and al-Libi, or that they are not POWs, or that they are not being interned.
Whatever the mix of targeted killing, indefinite detention, or rendition-like interrogations in international waters, the course set by the Obama administration of using “all elements of our power” remains one running counter to international law and due judicial process.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the New York Public Defender’s Office is demanded that, after 3 days, al-Libi, who has already been indicted on charges, get counsel and be brought immediately before a judge, as the law provides. But,
The first round of interrogations, expected to last several weeks according to US newspapers, will be to extract intelligence. Only after that will he be offered a lawyer and questioned in connection with the case for which he has already been charged.
The process here, of targeted killing, indefinite detention, now mixed with a variant of rendition where the subject is hidden from the legal system while the FBI has a go — is no better, but perhaps more sophisticated, than what the Bush regime practiced.
Note: on October 14, BBC reports that al-Libi is in New York City, to be formally charged in federal court.
What’s going on in Guantanamo is still outrageous. Obama renewed promises to close Guantanamo, although so far, only 3 prisoners have been released since 2010. Last week, a prisoner who the U.S. military has known was mentally ill for over a decade, was released.
Another figure from the Democratic establishment, lawyer Paul Lewis, has been named to work in the Defense Department with responsibility to close Guantanamo. We shall see where that goes, as we learn more about the lengths the administration/military has gone to subvert the rights of the prisoners and their lawyers, as Andy Worthington writes in: At Guantanamo, a Microcosm of the Surveillance State.
At Guantanamo last week, a pre-trial hearing in the military commission trials of five men allegedly involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, descended into chaos when Air Force Col. Karen Mayberry, the chief defence counsel for the Office of Military Commissions, explained how the Defence Department’s computer network was so untrustworthy that 540,000 supposedly confidential emails, between defence lawyers, had been made available to the prosecution, and seven gigabytes of the lawyers’ files had disappeared.
Shaker Amer, held for six years now after he’s been cleared for release, is seeking an independent medical evaluation, having lost over hundred pounds on hunger strike, and still being brutally abused by guards. Andy Worthington publishes his attorney’s statements.
Ramzi Kassem, who represents Shaker, filed this horrifying account of what happens to Shaker, on CloseGuantanamo.org
9. While in solitary confinement, Mr. Aamer is only allowed out of his cell for two hours a day, which he spends alone in a recreation cage. Each day in solitary, Mr. Aamer stages a peaceful protest, refusing to leave the recreation cage and, each day, he is forcibly removed from the cage by an IRF team. Mr. Aamer is typically beaten and sometimes choked in the process.
10. As Mr. Aamer recounted to me on June 28, 2013, the process typically begins with six IRF members rushing at Mr. Aamer and slamming him face down to the floor. Four of the guards grab his arms and legs, a fifth grabs his head, and a sixth oversees the entire operation, often as others watch and even record what is happening with a handheld video-camera. After handcuffing Mr. Aamer from behind with cutting restraints, they subject him to a humiliating body search.
11. Once the IRF team has forced Mr. Aamer back into his cell, they again slam him face down to the floor, pressing his arms and crossed feet together behind his back with their cumulative weight against his arms, feet, and back. The lead IRF member then holds Mr. Aamer’s crossed feet and arms pressed down together against Mr. Aamer’s back in a single point, against which the other five IRF members again bear down with their cumulative weight.
The London Guantanamo Campaign, a very active support group for Shaker, the only remaining British resident at the prison, and other prisoners, carries on regular protest in London. See the campaign to Free Shaker Amer to find ways you can act.
In encouraging U.S. response, another group of academics are challenging the legitimacy of U.S. forced-feeding: Health Professionals Who Participate in Force-feeding Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Bay Should Lose Professional Licenses, New Study Reveals.