Guantanamo–The Hell Hole


It has been the practice of every state's repressive apparatus to point the finger abroad to attack progressive movements at home. "Terrorism" is today's equivalent of Joe McCarthy and J Edgar Hoover's "Communist menace", which justified destroying the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement in the US, and murdering people like Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

Along with ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and secret CIA prisons and ordering an end to the use of torture in interrogations, Obama began his presidency by calling for much greater transparency. In reality, his administration did nothing to curtail or even talk about the surveillance monster that he took over from George W Bush.

The argument that with the destruction of the Taliban state in Afghanistan, the nature of the conflict has changed, leads the US into murky legal waters. The US has unfortunately replicated the arguments of the British government during their prosecution of the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, where, following the destruction of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic, Britain reclassified Boer soldiers as "rebels" who were thus ineligible for any legal niceties they had previously enjoyed as subjects of a recognized government. Even worse, in its attempts to deal with ongoing resistance, Britain adopted extreme measures-even funneling citizens of the two former states into vast concentration camps-where the families of those who continued to fight British domination were subjected to particularly harsh measures as punishment for ongoing resistance.

The name "detention center" hardly describes the true role of Guantanamo Bay. Joseph Sweeney, in a paper written for the Fordham International Law Journal in 2006, holds that the facility really constitutes a "permanent warehouse for men expected to be sources of intelligence over an indefinite period."

Sweeney casts doubt over the legitimacy of the US presence at Guanta-namo, citing Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) regarding the validity of a treaty obtained through coercion. Article 52 may give grounds for invalidating treaties obtained in the wake of military action, including US control over Guantanamo just five years after the expulsion of Spanish forces from Cuba. The real legal issue, however, lies in Guantanamo's conversion from naval station to interrogation and, more precisely torture facility.

US's supposed adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture, make the treatment of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners plainly illegal. Equivocations on whether such treatment is torture will not be engaged with, as anyone claiming that beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and waterboarding do not constitute "cruel, inhuman" or "degrading" punishment, is morally vacant and best ignored.

If one asks Yasiin Bey after his demonstrative ordeal as to whether force-feeding was torture, he would not hesitate. The UN has condemned US actions. In May a number of officials, from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, lashed out at the US response to the hunger strikers, citing force-feeding as illegitimate and denouncing the indefinite holding of many prisoners as "arbitrary" and illegal under international law.

Yet the UN has failed to follow through with renewed, forceful criticism of US intransigence, largely due to its status as a body directly dependent on an international order founded on state power. Within this setting, the nation-state remains paramount over the actual human person.

Human rights law is always going to find itself in a dilemma: it recognizes that, as in Guantanamo, the majority of human rights abuses are committed by states, yet due to their status as prime actors in legal and political enforcement, states are viewed as safeguarding the rights of individuals. The end result is an impotent system where human rights law simply appeals to national states to behave, and when infractions occur, seeks to shame offending governments into compliance. Such appeals can fall on deaf ears, as is the case of the US and its now notorious lack of respect for international legality.

Although the number of inmates refusing to take food at Guantanamo has recently declined substantially, solidarity remains a vitally important factor, where those enduring the unendurable can gain support from those empathizing with their plight. The solidarity gained from a mutual display of hardship needs to be further elaborated, politically, morally and philosophically, into a potential alternate model for the implementation of human rights. Such a model would go beyond the absurd method of petitioning and beseeching the primary abusers of human well-being, the state, and instead reconstitute society where the human subject, not the profit motive or legal abstractions, are placed at the heart of deliberations.

Vol. 46, No. 34, Mar 2 - 8, 2014