Déardaoin, Feabhra 26, 2009

Close Down the Torture Centre and Get Out of Guantanamo

On January 22, US president Barack Obama issued an executive order declaring that the torture facility and internment camp at Guantanamo Bay in occupied Cuba is to be closed within a year.

Obama also declared that the extensive network of secret CIA prisons dotted across the globe would be shut down as well. If there is any real substance to this order then it will be welcomed, not least by those who have been processed along the USA’s long and lawless conveyer belt of internment without trial, degradation and torture.

The illegal military base in Guantanamo Bay has come to epitomise the brutal, indiscriminate and squalid nature of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Its existence legitimises state sanctioned torture and the abandonment of the notion of due process. Everything about it stands in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention articles on the treatment of prisoners of war.
As an adjunct to its wars of conquest in Afghanistan and Iraq, the existence of the Guantanamo facility has once again brought into stark relief the real nature of US imperialism. Who will ever forget the images of nameless prisoners ghosted from their countries of origin being transported around ‘Gitmo’, bound and shackled on trolleys with eyes and ears covered to disorient and deprive them of sensory stimulation? This is to say nothing of the ‘water boarding’ and other degrading treatment and torture that prisoners have been subjected to.

From the perspective of US establishment critics of the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’, the fundamental error of the Bush era was not that it was inhumane or unethical, but that it was too crude in its execution; it was too indiscriminate, open and unapologetic about its brutal treatment of its ‘terrorist’ enemy and their ‘fellow travellers’ (for this, read family members, compatriots and co-religionists). It relied too naively on unquestioning obedience to the premise that “you are either with us or against us”.

This strategy worked quite well in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. It was, however, a strategy that was ultimately going to reflect negatively on the US and hinder the achievement of its objectives. The neo-con philosophy as extolled by Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld et al. had led the US to an all-time nadir in its relations with the wider world - hence the need for ‘change’; change meaning, of course, a measure of tinkering without fundamentally altering the role of the USA as the world’s foremost superpower/bully/policeman.

Just as Bill Clinton presented himself as a real alternative to CIA supremo George Bush senior, the Obama political programme, while promising a break with the immediate past, will be marked by a difference in presentation rather than substance.

The abandonment of Guantanamo as a place of detention and torture is merely indicative of a need to deflect criticism from the US as an endorser of torture and the inhuman and degrading treatment of its prisoners without actually ending the practice.

John Pilger, in an article entitled Obama and the Politics of Bollocks, recently commented how far from “shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, Obama's executive orders actually give the CIA authority to carry out renditions, abductions and transfers of prisoners in secret without the threat of legal obstruction. As the Los Angeles Times disclosed, ‘current and former intelligence officials said the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role.’ A semantic sleight of hand is that ‘long term prisons’ are changed to ‘short term prisons’; and while Americans are now banned from directly torturing people, foreigners working for the US are not. This means that America's numerous ‘covert actions’ will operate as they did under previous presidents, with proxy regimes, such as Augusto Pinochet's in Chile, doing the dirtiest work.

“Bush's open support for torture, and Donald Rumsfeld's extraordinary personal overseeing of certain torture techniques, upset many in America's ‘secret army’ of subversive military and intelligence operators as it exposed how the system worked. Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, has said the Army Field Manual may include new forms of ‘harsh interrogation’, which will be kept secret.

“Obama has chosen not to stop any of this. Neither do his ballyhooed executive orders put an end to Bush's assault on constitutional and international law.”

Nor were they intended to. One must see the disingenuous closure of Guantanamo in its wider context. In the same way that this move does not signify an end to the detention and torture of suspected and actual enemy combatants, the continued existence of a US naval base in Guantanamo signifies a policy of continued belligerence towards Cuba.

The fact of the matter is that Guantanamo Bay is Cuban territory. That the return of this occupied territory to Cuba is not considered an option is testament to the fact that Obama is an imperialist, as all of his utterances in relation to Cuba demonstrate.

Obama is an imperialist in the same way that all other US presidents have been, regardless of whether they deem themselves a ‘Republican’ or a ‘Democrat’ (while actually being neither in any real sense of the words). There is nothing that signifies the imperialist nature of the US more than does its long-standing hostile and annexationist policy towards Cuba.

In some for his recent ‘reflections’, Fidel Castro has addressed the possibility for real change under an Obama administration. Of late, he has felt compelled to draw attention to the reality that “maintaining a military base in Cuba against the will of the people violates the most elemental principles of international law… not respecting Cuba's will is an arrogant act and an abuse of immense power against a little country”.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has also echoed this demand by stating that, “now he [Obama] should return Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans because that is Cuban territory.”
The immediate response to these reasonable demands was as one would have expected. In a subsequent article, Fidel, quoting Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to the effect that “the least said on Cuba, the better”, concluded that it was his view that “sooner rather than later, Obama’s politics are losing their virginity”.

Those who want to gauge what Obama’s presidency is really going to be like need only look at how US policy towards Cuba unfolds. It is the considered wisdom of many in Cuba that the blockade will outlive Obama. It will outlive Obama because he and the wealthy class of people he represents believe that they have the right to interfere in the economic, political and internal affairs of Cuba.

The naval base at Guantanamo Bay, established by the Platt Amendment of 1901, exists for the very same reasons. Just as the detention and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo must be ended, so, too, must the criminal economic blockade of Cuba and the occupation of every inch of the Guantanamo Bay region.

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