It has now been two years since the US government set up its newest and most perfect prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prison was built to hold those captured in the US invasion of Afghanistan and the “war on terrorism” — about 700 people so far. It’s America’s most perfect prison because it takes the basic goals of prisons — to isolate, silence and break those held — to their ultimate conclusion. Those held on Guantanamo have no official legal status, and thus are denied any legal protection under either American or international law. They are totally isolated, denied contact with lawyers, their families, the media, independent human rights groups or the outside world. Since the prison is within a US military base and is physically offshore and isolated, the government has total control. You can’t get within hundreds of miles to see it or to protest.
Slingshot has wanted to write about the situation over the past few years, but it’s hard to know what to say from any kind of radical or anarchist perspective. The whole thing is a bizarre example of life imitating scary science fiction, or an Orwell novel. Guantanamo is just the most extreme example of a prison industrial complex that destroys millions of lives every single day.
Liberal groups like Human Rights Watch, the ALCU, and the Center for Constitutional Rights have brought so-far unsuccessful lawsuits trying to pick apart the legal contradictions of Guantanamo.
For instance (and there are many examples of legal contradictions regarding Guantanamo) the government claims on one hand that the prisoners aren’t protected under the US Constitution because they aren’t on US soil, although the US government is solely responsible for setting up Guantanamo and bringing prisoners there. On the other hand, the government claims the prisoners aren’t protected under international law or the Geneva Convention.
The government is claiming it can hold the prisoners without trial as “enemy combatants” (who have none of the rights of Prisoners of War) until the end of the conflict, even though the “conflict” in question is the war on terrorism, which the government admits will probably never end. Thus, the prisoners face life in prison with no trial, no lawyers, and no independent determination about whether they should even be there in the first place.
So far, the lawsuits filed against the Guantanamo situation by liberal groups have been unsuccessful. From a radical point of view, lawsuits are a pretty pathetic response to a government out of control, since they concede the legitimacy of the government’s courts, authority, and system from the get-go. It isn’t much of a surprise when the government’s courts find that the government’s prison is “legal.”
The normally mild-mannered and generally impartial International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been the only outside group allowed into Guantanamo to observe prison conditions. The US hoped that the presence of the Red Cross would convince the international community that the US was respecting human rights, even while the US refused to abide by international law or treaties.
In a signal that things are not going well for the US public relations campaign, the ICRC recently joined the chorus of human rights groups who have denounced the Guantanamo prison.
The ICRC complained that it has been asking the US to grant legal rights under international law to the prisoners since the prison was set up, with no meaningful response. Prisoners at Guantanamo are experiencing significant psychological deterioration after living in a legal limbo for years, with no idea what will happen to them, and no procedures in place for finding out, according to the ICRC. There have been 32 suicide attempts at Guantanamo so far , and a large portion of the inmates are being fed anti-depressant medications. There have also been continued reports that the US is very aggressively interrogating the prisoners, using methods verging on torture.
So what is to be done? The 700 prisoners at Guantanamo — allegedly terrorists — are unpopular and thus have few defenders in the US. Since media coverage is strictly controlled, there isn’t a lot of news getting out about the situation. They are gradually being forgotten, just another footnote of a US government drunk on power and out of control.
Now that some of Bush & Co.’s lies about Iraq are being exposed, perhaps the public is ready to question recent American human rights abuses justified by the “war on terrorism.” Let’s demand that Guantanamo be dismantled — loudly, publicly and all across the United States. We can’t allow the government to establish a secret gulag, because eventually, they’ll want to put us in it.