Guantanamo: The Killing Field of Human Rights

by Gerry Foley / July 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

The Guantanamo prison has become the most glaring symbol of the U.S. government’s arrogant disregard of the safeguards of human rights in American and international law. Even five judges on the U.S. Supreme Court (a majority) felt obliged to strike down the Bush administration’s scheme of trying Guantanamo prisoners in “military commissions.” The decision was the work of the four more liberal members of the court joined by one reputed “moderate conservative.”Justice Roberts, a recent Bush appointee, recused himself because he had previously supported the administration in a lower court. Moreover, the decision seemed to be concerned primarily with the question of the separation of powers. The British Guardian quoted the “moderate conservative” swing-vote judge in its June 29 issue as follows: “‘Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order,’ Mr. [Justice] Kennedy wrote in his opinion.

“‘Concentration of power [in the executive branch] puts personal liberty in peril of arbitrary action by officials, an incursion the constitution’s three-part system is designed to avoid.’”

Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, was cited in a July 1 report on the CNN website as emphasizing that the court ruling didn’t say “that we could not continue to hold enemy combatants indefinitely for the duration of hostilities, which was something the Supreme Court said we could do.…

“That path is still available to us. The president of the United States can continue to hold enemy combatants at Guantanamo. But we are looking at ways to provide as many tools as possible to the president of the United States in dealing with terrorists.”

The Bush administration’s innovation is the claim to be able to hold persons arbitrarily defined as “enemy combatants” for the “duration of hostilities” in an undeclared war to which there may never be a definite end.

Although the Supreme Court decision will not in itself bring any relief for the Guantanamo internees, it undoubtedly reflects growing fears, even among conservatives, of the U.S. administration’s building up of a massive uncontrolled repressive apparatus in the name of the “war on terror.” And thus it should encourage demands for the closure of Guantanamo and the secure relief of those illegally detained there.

World revulsion at the arbitrary detention of hundreds of Muslims in the U.S. offshore prison, in fact, seems now to have reached the point that even the stonewalling Bush regime is conceding that it is going to have to close the facility.

The Guardian of June 24 noted that Bush has now said three times that he wants to shut down the notorious camp. But it also pointed out that that does not mean that the U.S. administration has repented of its arbitrary and inhuman treatment of Middle Eastern people who it detains in the name of its so-called war on terror—or its vast and worldwide machinery of repression.

This is, in the first instance, a war of terror against peoples made desperate by oppression at the hands of the imperialists and their local clients and, secondarily, a war of intimation against anyone in the home country that might consider fighting back against the capitalist assault on their rights and living standards.

With the U.S. military’s notable linguistic inventiveness, a spokesperson for the brass termed the suicide of three prisoners in Guantanamo on June 9 an “act of asymmetric warfare,” a phrase apparently meaning that the prisoners were powerless against their tormentors and that they therefore resorted to the ultimate weapon of the helpless.

Guardian writer Suzanne Goldenberg reported: “‘They want to shut it [Guantanamo] down so they can create hundreds of small Guantanamo Bays that will not attract attention or serve as such a symbol,’ said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. ‘The president has not said he wants to stop the policies that created it … there is no indication the administration wants to comply with domestic or international law in the treatment of detainees.’”

The prisoners who committed suicide had to choke themselves to death, and that act, according to doctors, could take up to five minutes. They were held in cells barely taller than a person and hanging therefore could not bring instant death. They had long been on hunger strike and were in piteous condition.

David Rose wrote in the June 18 British Observer, “According to newly declassified testimony by another prisoner shortly before the suicides, a guard recently told him: ‘They have lost hope in life. They have no hope in their eyes. They are ghosts and they want to die. No food will keep them alive right now.’

“This prisoner, the former British resident Shaker Aamer, told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that the three dead men and other hunger strikers were so ill whenever their feeds contained protein that it went ‘right through them’ causing severe diarrhoea.” A considerable proportion of the prisoners have been on hunger strikes and have been subjected to forced feeding through tubes in their noses.

One of the more hypocritical defenses of Guantanamo by U.S. administration defenders is that the conditions of the prisoners there are better than they would be in Afghanistan or other Middle Eastern countries from which they come. This could be true, although it is a revealing comment about the U.S. allies in the “war on terror.”

But holding people indefinitely for years in pens far from their families, their countries, and any human society, in a barren, remote location can ultimately be as deadly as the worst of dungeons and tortures. The publicity about Guantanamo focused by the June 9 suicides revealed that many prisoners tried to kill themselves before.

Guantanamo, along with the secret prisons the U.S. rulers now want to replace it with, is a part of an attempt to set up a totally unrestrained and unmonitored system of repression. The prisoners were labeled as “enemy combatants,” and therefore refused legal rights but also denied the rights of prisoners of war under international law. They were held for years without even the prospect of ever being released. Some of them were juveniles.

In the June 24 Guardian, Goldenberg noted: “A study this year by a New Jersey law school found 90% of the inmates had nothing to do with terrorism.” Many of them were apparently just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some were turned over to the U.S. military by mercenary Pakistani bounty hunters. It is imperative now that world public opinion force the U.S. rulers to release these victims and make restitution to them.

The world outcry against the treatment of these prisoners is part of the political disaster for the U.S. rulers resulting from their ill-fated adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and their support for the Zionist oppression of the Palestinians. The outrage against the atrocities represented by Guantanamo and the U.S. secret prisons will undoubtedly grow as the cost of these escapades become more glaring. The protests will be an essential part of the fight for a decent future for all of humanity.