The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Guantanamo:
A symbol of U.S. imperialism, 1901 to present

Dec 6, 2004

On November 30, the New York Times revealed that, in confidential reports, the Red Cross had charged the U.S. military with systematic torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The charges are based on the findings of a Red Cross inspection team which visited Guantanamo last June.

The U.S. government established the prison camp at Guantanamo in 2001, supposedly to detain prisoners from the war in Afghanistan. Today, there are about 550 prisoners from more than 40 countries at this camp. Only four of them have been charged with any crimes.

The government claims that these men can't be released because they are dangerous terrorists. Never mind that many of them were rounded up randomly, without any indication that they were linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban in any way. Some were even kidnapped from other countries, such as the two British residents who were abducted during a business trip in Gambia. In fact, well-known al-Qaeda captives, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaidah, are not even brought to Guantanamo. They are held at highly secret locations.

Prisoners, as well as their relatives and lawyers, have repeatedly tried to draw the public's attention to the routine practices of torture at Guantanamo. Practices include beatings, shackling in painful positions for hours, threatening with unmuzzled dogs, sleep and food deprivation, isolation for weeks or months, sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme heat and cold and forced injections. Often, the purpose of the torture is to force false confessions and false testimony against others.

The Bush administration dismisses these charges, basically saying that it has a right to torture these prisoners. On the one hand the administration says that international treaties on the treatment of prisoners of war, such as the Geneva Convention, don't apply to Guantanamo detainees because they are not prisoners of war but "unlawful combatants," a term found nowhere in law books. On the other hand, the Bush administration claims that it is not subject to U.S. law either, because Guantanamo is not part of the U.S.!

But then, how come the U.S. gets to use this piece of land as a torture camp?

Guantanamo is one of the U.S. "possessions" abroad, acquired after the Spanish-American War of 1898. After that war, Cuba, a Spanish colony until then, became independent. The limits of this "independence," however, were set by the Platt Amendment, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1901. With this amendment, the U.S. gave itself the "right" to intervene in the domestic affairs of Cuba, "for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty." It was then that the U.S. also established a naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba's south coast.

Not surprisingly, Cubans were not eager to accept the Platt Amendment. But they had little choice. With U.S. troops still occupying the island, Cuba gave in to the U.S. demand to incorporate the Platt Amendment into its constitution.

An article of the amendment allowed the U.S. to keep its military base at Guantanamo until both sides should "agree" to its return. The U.S. said the base was crucial to the defense of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal Zone is no longer a U.S. possession and the Platt Amendment is no longer part of the Cuban constitution. Nonetheless, the U.S. has held on to its military base at Guantanamo. The U.S. ruling class has obviously figured that it pays to have such "possessions" abroad!

Politicians and government officials always tell us that the U.S. is the champion of "freedom and democracy," at home and abroad. They claim to respect the "rule of law" above everything else. But their actions, in 1901 as in 2004, prove that they will break any law or treaty they have signed if it doesn't suit their real goal: to impose the domination of the U.S. ruling class, at home and abroad.