Closing Guantanamo: President Obama's Failed Promise

by Cubanista Wednesday, Jul. 20, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Nicolas Mottas and Myrsini Tsakiri write about President Barack Obama's broken promise to close down the "modern Auschwitz" - the Guantanamo detention camp.

July 18, 2011.

By Nicolas Mottas and Myrsini Tsakiri.

It is an undoubted reality that, in international politics, the ecumenically praised "human rights" have been a tool in the hands of the world's most powerful. The threat of "terrorism" has been used more and more as an excuse for the drastic decrease of civil and political rights and liberties. The existence of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in southern Cuba, run by the U.S. government, consists a contemporary landmark of human rights abuse, dignity's streamroller and obstentatious disregard of International Law. Unfotunately, until today, President Barack Obama has failed to deliver his promise in closing the Guantánamo detention center, thus putting an end to a shameful history of human rights abuse, national sovereignty infringement and colonialist perception of foreign policy.

A sinful past

The U.S. undertook the territorial control of the Guantánamo bay's southern part with the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty. This agreement granted a perpertual leasehold of the area to Washington. It was a leasehold Treaty signed on Febryary 1903 by the then Cuban President Tomas Estrada Palma (the first President since the island's independence from Spain) and President Theodore Roosevelt. The price for the leasehold was 2,000 gold coins per year and gave the permission to the U.S. navy to occupy the bay. A new lease of the Guantánamo bay was negotiated between Washington and Havana in 1934. Part of the then Cuban government was an emerging "strong politician", who later became one of Latin America's most ruthless and corrupted dictators - Fulgencio Batista.

After the 1959 thriumph of the Castro Revolution in the island, the revolutionary government of Havana asked the restoration of Guantánamo to Cuban people. The U.S. administration not only unquestionably denied this, but moreover prohibited its military personnel from entering Cuban territory. Since then and until today, the Guantánamo naval base's mission is to "control, police and spy on Cuba" (Rafael Hernández Rodriguez, Subject to Solution: Problems in Cuban-U.S. Relations). In 1985, the U.S. President Ronald Reagan cynically affirmed that the purpose of the naval base in the island is to impose the presence of Washington even if the Cubans do not want it. Imperialism totally exposed.

The Cuban government regards the U.S. military presence in the southern part of the island as "illegal" by arguing that the 1903 Treaty (as well as the 1934 new lease agreement) was signed under the threat of violence, in total violation of International Law. These accussations of Havana cannot be ignored by anybody in the United Nations. According to article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention a Treaty is "void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations". This is a legal argument upon which Havana bases her accusations against the U.S. military presence in southern Cuba.

A Modern Auschwitz

Without a single doubt the existence of the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo without the consent of the Cuban people consists a blatant violation of international law. But, apart from being a chapter of the U.S. colonialism over Latin America, Guantánamo carries a 50 years old sinful past of human rights abuses. Since 1991, when the naval base started being used as a prison, the United Nations and numerous human rights groups (Amnesty International, International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch etc.) have vehemently condemned the detention conditions of prisoners and the notoriously horrible methods of interrogation used by the U.S. army. The reports related to human rights abuse in the Guantanamo detention camp have been increased since 2002, when the base started "hosting" prisoners from Afghanistan and terrorism suspects.

On May 2002, a special U.N. team of experts supported that the U.S. administration violates the 1984 International Convention against Torture (CAT), while on May 2005 Amnesty International's report called facility the "gulag of our times". Voices within the United States have also called Washington to shut down the detention camp - from former President Jimmy Carter who called Guantánamo a "disgrace to the United States" to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman according to whom the notorious Camp Delta is "worse than an embarrassment". Military officials at the base have reported 41 unsuccessful suicide attempts by 25 detainees since January 2002. However, the number of attempted suicides by desperate prisoners may be much higher.

A Failed Promise

The problem lies in Washington's continuous unwillingness to put an end to Guantánamo's torture chamber. It was in August 2007 when the then U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated: "As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists". Being a newly-inaugurated President, on January 2009, Obama signed an executive order to close the facility within the period of one year. Almost a year later, on December 2009, the President signs a memorandum thus ordering Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder to acquire a state prison in Illinois in replacement for Guantánamo.

In the following months the closing of the detention camp remained only in promising words and on May 2010 the House Armed Services Committee unanimously prohibits the transfer of the Guantánamo prison to Illinois or anywhere within the United States. Being politically a "hostage" of the Republicans, the neo-conservatives and his own party's hawkish wing, President Obama wholly failed to deliver his own promise. Last January, two years after the signing of the Presidential order for the closing of Guantánamo, the detention camp still operates freely. Apparently, either the President's will to close the camp was not honest or he himself is weak in front of Washington's strong conservativism - there is no third explanation.

In a speech in Chile, on December 1971, Fidel Castro had said that Guantánamo "is there just to humiliate Cuba, just like a knife stuck in the heart of Cuba's dignity and sovereignty". But apart from Cuba, the existence of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp consists a humiliation of human rights worldwide and a remnant of Imperialism at its worst kind. The American citizens have every right to demand the closing of this "torture chamber" which costs hundreds of American lifes in the Middle East and deteriorates even more the U.S. relations with the Arab World.

Whatever President Obama and his government will choose to do, the U.S. occupation of Guantánamo will remain in history as a post-Cold War "Auschwitz", a monument of western hypocrisy and cruelty. What we have to do is to raise our voice for the permanent shut down of the detention camp and the complete restoration of the Guantánamo Bay to Cuban people.

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Original: Closing Guantanamo: President Obama's Failed Promise