Guantanamo anniversaries, sorrows and struggle

The United States has occupied 45 square miles around Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for 100 years. And, on January 11, 2012, U.S. prisoners captured in and around Afghanistan will have been housed at the Guantanamo prison for 10 years.

The United States is wrong on Guantanamo in two ways: The occupation of the base violates international law, and there have been many reports that Guantanamo prisoners have been tortured and abused. Efforts to right these wrongs run on separate paths despite the connecting theme of imperialist privilege. The call here is for a single struggle fixing the two together, within an anti-imperialist framework.  Many of us fighting for limited goals turn a blind eye to other troubles, even related ones.

Post-colonial Cuba accepted the U.S.-devised Platt Amendment as part of its new constitution in 1901. Not only was the door opened for U.S. military interventions, but Article Seven of the Platt Amendment made Guantanamo Bay available for U.S. use as a coaling station and naval base. The general understanding even then was that occupation served the U.S. purpose of controlling the island.  

U. S. intervention into Cuba’s independence war, which had already been won by Cuban rebels, allowed for U.S. takeover of the peace process with Spain. Sixty years of political and economic vassalage for the island followed. A nascent U.S. overseas empire also took over Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico  

The U.S. hold on Guantanamo Bay violates standards of international law. International lawyer and former UN official Alfred de Zayas lists them: the doctrine known as “Material Breach of the Agreement,” a reference to the United States establishing a prison there; the “Doctrine of Unequal Treaties,” implying a forced agreement; and the “Emergence of New Peremptory Norms,” referring to post-colonial realities like self-determination. De Zayas cites “Fundamental Change of Circumstances,” referencing changed world conditions or changed relations between treaty partners and an “Implied Right of Denunciation.” This last, a nod to Cuban sovereignty, hits the 1934 renewal of the Guantanamo lease under which the United States would leave Guantanamo only with both countries approving. The U.S. 1996 Helms Burton Law forbade a United States departure as long as the Cuban government included Raul or Fidel Castro.

U.S prison facilities came into full use in the 1990s when, temporarily, tens of thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees were housed at Guantanamo. Beginning then, but more so recently, the U. S. government has come under criticism for prisoner abuse. For almost 10 years Internet stories have circulated about children, old men, innocent bystanders and non-terrorist defenders of their homelands being incarcerated in the Guantanamo prison, many having been sold to the U.S. military by bounty hunters. Some came from other prison hellholes; most were tortured, and of those eligible for release, many were spurned by their countries of origin. Andy Worthington’s blog provides full coverage of individual stories.

Prisoners’ histories also make up a big part of an exhaustive Amnesty International report of December 2011 titled “Guantanamo, a Decade of Damage to Human Rights.” The 60-page report includes statements and comments from judges, chiefs of state, U.S. politicians, military officials, and jailers, and also covers contradictory turns of U.S. policies and judicial decisions harmful to prisoners.

Categories of Amnesty International’s criticism include U.S. human rights abuses worldwide, prisoners treated according to policy considerations and not according to law, and detentions that continue despite court-ordered release. And more: manipulation of judicial proceedings, victims without remedies, and U.S. rejection of “truth and accountability,” even for “crimes under international law.”

In all, 774 prisoners have entered Guantanamo; 171 men are still there, of which 120 arrived before September 2002 and 12 on January 11, 2002. Only one of the latter has been charged.

Opposition to both new and old wrongs in the case of the Guantanamo base may have lacked impact due to fragmented interests and efforts. Currently, Cuban solidarity activists seem to concentrate, for example, on freedom for the anti-terrorist Cuban Five prisoners, or on ending travel restrictions. The Guantanamo Bay occupation issue itself receives short shrift, as do the Cuban Adjustment Act and provisions of the U.S. blockade, which deprive Cubans of essential medical supplies and food. 

Work on Cuba’s behalf is multifaceted. And the playbook ought to require involvement with human rights and peace activists who have been mounting a campaign to empty the Guantanamo prison. And, logically, the latter ought to join in assuring Guantanamo’s return to Cuba. Taking on the “empire” builds on, and is shaped by, a unified resistance movement.

Photo: Paul Keller // CC 2.0


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.