Workers Vanguard No. 1086
25 March 2016
Free the Detainees!
U.S. Out of Guantánamo!
The “forever prisoners”: this is how some insightful commentators have described the fate of many of the detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Barack Obama came to office promising to shut down the U.S.’s offshore prison-torture center, and even signed an executive order in 2009 to that effect. Now, some seven years later, in the face of predictable Republican opposition, Obama has again announced a plan to shut Gitmo down, complaining that “keeping this facility open is contrary to our values.”
In fact, the beatings, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation, insanity-inducing isolation and other atrocities regularly committed at Guantánamo are as American as apple pie. These sadistic tortures—like those at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Bagram in Afghanistan—are no aberrations. They are the conscious policies of the bloodiest ruling class in history—one that routinely and necessarily uses terror and degradation to maintain its domination. At home, such savagery finds expression in the living hell of America’s prisons, where nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners are locked up, more than half of them black and Latino.
Obama does not see much need to take more “terrorist” prisoners. He prefers killing them outright through drone strikes and Special Ops actions in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Near East as well as in Somalia, Libya and elsewhere in Africa. Under Obama’s watch, thousands have been assassinated in drone strikes, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son. According to a 2014 report, attempts to kill 41 suspected terrorists through drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen resulted in the slaughter of 1,147 people.
Obama, in talking about closing Guantánamo, is simply seeking to pursue the interests of U.S. imperialism through other means. Obama has been waging the bipartisan “war on terror” more vigorously than the previous Bush/Cheney gang. His administration has enshrined into law measures that are the hallmarks of police-state dictatorships: indefinite military detention and legal license for the president to disappear citizens suspected of terrorism. Obama has expanded domestic spying and surveillance, while hunting down whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. It is telling, though unsurprising, that Obama’s new Supreme Court nominee is Merrick Garland, who as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia supported the government almost every time its powers were challenged by a Guantánamo detainee.
Of the 779 men imprisoned in the Guantánamo prison complex since its opening in January 2002, 91 remain. Nine died in custody—seven by suicide. Obama says he wants to release to a “third party” country at least 35 of these remaining detainees, some of whom have been waiting for their transfer since 2009. Previous detainees were sent to countries like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, where they doubtless underwent further “enhanced interrogation.”
In a particularly cruel twist, the government refuses to bring tortured detainees to trial, where they could refute the charges against them, because the “evidence” was extracted through torture. Instead, the administration is using the kangaroo courts of military tribunals to prosecute several detainees. Obama is also seeking to transfer the remaining ones to permanent custody on American soil, likely in one or another “supermax” prison in which they would suffer higher-tech forms of torture. Such a move would set a sinister precedent for indefinite detention without trial in the U.S. As Omar Shakir of the Center for Constitutional Rights put it, “Importing indefinite detention to the United States is not a plan to ‘close Guantánamo.’ It’s a plan to move Guantánamo to another ZIP code.”
This threat to basic democratic rights is a clear danger to labor, minorities and all perceived opponents of the government. It underlines the need to link opposition to the U.S. presence in Guantánamo to the demand: Free all the detainees! More than a decade ago, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee addressed the threat that “anti-terror” measures posed for the rights of the entire population in an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief on behalf of Jose Padilla. A U.S. citizen who had converted to Islam, Padilla was seized at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in May 2002 as a supposed material witness. Declared an enemy combatant, he was detained without charges until November 2005. He remains in prison after being sentenced in 2008 in a frame-up show trial. Condemning the concocted “war on terror,” our brief stated:
“The Executive’s declaration that its ‘war against terrorism’ forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents ‘for life’ from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents. Like them, the Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing.”
Guantánamo Belongs to Cuba
Now that Obama has become the first U.S. president to set foot on Cuban soil since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, it is useful to recall how the U.S. got Guantánamo in the first place: they stole it. Along with the rest of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, this territory was the spoils of U.S. victory in the 1898 Spanish-American War, which marked the emergence of American imperialism on the world stage. To prepare for pulling U.S. military forces out of Cuba, in 1901 Congress passed the Platt Amendment, which declared the right of the U.S. to intervene in Cuba at will. Washington subsequently forced the Cuban government to write the amendment’s terms into the country’s constitution, including the condition that Cuba sell or lease territory to the U.S. for coaling or naval stations. On that basis, the U.S. extracted a perpetual lease of Guantánamo Bay—for some $3,000 per year—that stipulated its “complete jurisdiction and control.”
Nineteenth-century Cuban independence fighter José Martí had warned, “Once the United States is in Cuba, who will drive it out?” It was the seizure of power by Fidel Castro’s guerrilla forces in 1959 and the subsequent expropriation of capitalist property beginning in 1960 that drove out the imperialists and their local lackeys. However, Castro’s military forces did not have the strength to expel the U.S. from Guantánamo Bay. While the naval facility there has only marginal strategic value, mainly serving as a training base, Guantánamo has been a staging ground for U.S. provocations against Cuba and was a detention center even before 2002. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, as Navy personnel and their families were evacuated, the Marines landed at Guantánamo while a naval blockade was imposed on Cuba. In 1991, many of the thousands of Haitians fleeing a U.S.-backed right-wing coup were held there after being seized at sea.
Although bureaucratically deformed from the outset, the Cuban Revolution was a historic victory for the island’s toilers and for the workers of the world. With the aid of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s collectivized economy was able to fundamentally transform the lives of the workers and peasants, making great leaps in health and education in particular. At the same time, the very presence of the U.S. naval base and detention-torture center is a reminder that Cuba is still in the imperialists’ crosshairs.
The Spartacist League stands for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. As part of that defense we say: Down with the U.S. imperialist embargo against Cuba! To defend and extend the gains of the Cuban Revolution we stand for a proletarian political revolution that replaces nationalist Stalinist rule with a regime of workers democracy committed to world socialist revolution.
Our purpose is to build a vanguard workers party that will lead the multiracial American proletariat in overthrowing the U.S. imperialist beast from within. Along with giving back Guantánamo Bay and providing massive aid to further Cuba’s development, an American workers government would sweep away the entire U.S. capitalist “justice” system—not least its supermax prisons—as a first step toward human freedom.