The U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay has long stood out as a violation of Cuba’s national sovereignty. In the last few years, however, it has garnered worldwide attention as a prison camp. It has become a symbol of widespread and well-known U.S. human rights violations, captured so vividly in the images of masked prisoners held kneeling in orange jumpsuits.
Pakistani protesters condemn treatment of Guantánamo detainees, March 2, Karachi.
Guantánamo has now been labeled a torture center by a United Nations investigating panel.
By late May, Guantánamo was experiencing its most determined opposition from inside its own walls. A revolt broke out at the base in May that included a series of suicide attempts, medical emergencies and violent conflicts between 20 detainees and prison guards. Six detainees were injured in the uprising.
Eighty-six detainees recently joined three others in a 9-month hunger strike that involved 131 strikers at its peak in mid-September.
Despite attempts to force-feed detainees with dirty tubes, prisoners continue to protest long-term solitary confinement, lack of due process, sexual and cultural humiliation, sleep deprivation and forced injections, among other forms of torture.
No due process
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Guantánamo Bay started operating as a military prison for suspected al Qaeda and Taliban “illegal combatants.” The detention center has become a hub of human rights violations in which hundreds of Middle Eastern men have been arbitrarily rounded up and denied due process of law. A February 2006 analysis by lawyers Mark Denbeaux and Joshua Denbeaux revealed that out of the over 500 suspected terrorists who were ever held in Guantánamo, just over 20 had been linked to al Qaeda. The lawyers represent Guantánamo detainees.
A Wall Street Journal report in November 2005 stated that only 3 percent of all the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay were awaiting release. More than half were awaiting a transfer or to be further detained at the base. Another 40 percent had had no decisions made in their cases.
The detainees are given legal representation, but no legal rights to a fair trial. U.S. soldiers and their superiors act as interrogators, prosecutors, judges and juries.
Prisoners at Guantánamo are kept in isolation for the greater part of the day. They are blindfolded when being transferred from one camp to another and are not allowed to talk in groups of more than three.
On May 30, a panel of United Nations human rights officials condemned the torture of Guantánamo detainees and called for closing the military prison. The panel was joined by German chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Britain’s attorney general Peter Goldsmith.
The U.N. panel denounced the Guantánamo Bay detention camp following an 18-month study in which they reviewed questionnaires and interviews by former detainees and lawyers of current ones. They were denied private interviews with actual detainees.
The U.N. and some bourgeois politicians are calling for the closing of Guantánamo Bay’s detention camp. This is well and good. But detainees held without due legal process should not simply be transferred to a prison that may be less notorious for human rights violations. They should be released.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the United Nations report, explaining that the prison will only be closed in due time. “Absolutely we want to see the day when Guantánamo can close,” she claimed.
But evidence shows that the Pentagon has no intention whatsoever to leave Guantánamo. In June 2005, the Department of Defense announced that defense contractor Halliburton would be building a new $30 million detention facility and security perimeter around the base at Guantánamo Bay.
Part of a broader war
All criminal wars have war crimes. This is what the United Nations and the capitalist politicians refuse to mention in their condemnations of Guantánamo. The violations in Guantánamo and in the whole network of U.S. torture centers and prisons are part of a larger offensive waged by the United States and its imperialist allies against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and all others who resist subjugation.
In June 2006, there were 480 prisoners at Guantánamo, most having been turned over by bounty hunters. Eighty-six percent of the prisoners are from Afghanistan alone.
In Iraq too, 11,000 men have been rounded up and held in military prisons. There are few distinctions to be made between Iraq’s scandalous Abu Ghraib prison and the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. They have the same leadership, the same training and routinely employ the same torture tactics.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who initially commanded facilities at Guantánamo, also commanded the Abu Ghraib prison during the torture scandals. Three released Guantánamo detainees now in Britain filed a report in 2004 against the prison where they stated they were tortured to extract false confessions. They made particular reference to the horrendous conditions enforced under Miller’s watch.
The arbitrary and lawless confinement of Guantánamo Bay detainees is just as racist and violent as the daily, unprovoked detentions and killings of Iraqi civilians.
A vestige of colonialism
The U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay, covering 45 square miles, was established in 1898 during the U.S. invasion of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Ironically, it was Cuba’s first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, a U.S. citizen favoring the outright annexation of Cuba by the United States, who granted perpetual lease of the bay to the U.S. government in 1903.
Today, Guantánamo Bay remains a vestige of colonialism, condemned by the revolutionary government of Cuba and Cuban citizens as “an imperialist infringement of our sovereignty.” The U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay is an illegally occupied area.
While an official U.S. military website boasts Guantánamo as “the United States’ oldest overseas naval base,” the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs refers to it as a “U.S. black hole.”
In response to the U.S. Department of Defense human rights report last year, Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque said, “Cuba recognizes that there are violations of human rights in our country. But they are at the Guantánamo Naval Base, in territory occupied against Cuba’s will.”