The Guantanamo military prison, in south-eastern Cuba, has violated human rights at will since established by US President George W. Bush in 2002 – during his administration’s declared war against terrorism.
The Guantanamo “detention centre” has in reality served as a torture chamber with inmates suffering various abuses. By comparison, Guantanamo makes the once notorious Alcatraz prison today seem like a modest labour camp.
Many of Guantanamo’s prisoners have been held without charge or trial, on mere suspicion of guilt, and subjected to widespread use of torture – which has done nothing but further aid the cause of extremist fundamentalist groups like Al-Qaeda. The principles of assumption of innocence, originating over 800 years ago with the creation of Magna Carta, have long been cast to the wind.
Magna Carta was drafted in England in 1215 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, to settle a vicious dispute between the unpopular King John and a group of revolutionary barons. The Great Charter – as it is also known – safeguarded the rebellious barons from wrongful imprisonment, granted them access to swift justice, promised to protect Church rights, and so on. It became a cornerstone of English political life, being customarily renewed by each monarch.
Magna Carta heavily influenced early American colonists (“part of Americans’ birthright”), was a driving force behind the US Constitution’s signing in 1787, later entering sections of the US Bill of Rights. In the 21st century its values have particularly been thrown to the wayside.
An extract from Magna Carta declares, “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed – nor will we go upon him, nor will we send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land”. These words appear to have been lost on past US Presidents like George Bush, Barack Obama and their British counterpart Tony Blair.
Blair’s predecessor Winston Churchill was not unacquainted with warfare – having overseen major operations in both the world wars. Nor was Britain’s renowned wartime leader a stranger to controversy in a career stretching across decades.
Yet Churchill said shortly after World War II, “We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom, and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence”.
Churchill further described Magna Carta as “the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land”, while saying separately that “the power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law… is in the highest degree odious”.
One can but guess at his thoughts if he were here to witness “the great principles of freedom” deprived of those sitting without charge at prisons like the US-run Guantanamo. The leader of the Free World hasn’t quite been living up to its title.
It would be interesting to note Churchill’s reaction too to the first Guantanamo case that came to trial under Obama – that of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and former child soldier. When age 15, a wounded Khadr was captured in 2002 as he defended his Afghan village from attack by US forces – that is, trying to protect his homeland from an illegal invasion force. By the standards of US justice, Khadr’s actions were deemed a serious crime.
Khadr was imprisoned at Bagram in Afghanistan, and later, at Guantanamo. In October 2010, he was brought before a military court and handed two options: plead not guilty and stay in Guantanamo forever, or plead guilty and serve another eight years. Khadr chose the second option, being released early in 2015 under “strict conditions”, after having spent a decade at Guantanamo. Earlier this year, the Canadian government was forced to award Khadr a settlement of around $8 million for various constitutional rights violations.
There is the likelihood those that do leave Guantanamo remain permanently affected by their treatment. Kuwaiti citizen Abdallah al-Ajmiwas sent to Guantanamo in 2003 for participating in “two or three fire-fights with the Northern Alliance [Afghan military organisation fighting the Taliban]. After release in 2005, Al-Ajmi made his way onto a devastated Iraq. In March 2008 he drove a truck weighed down with bombs into an Iraqi military facility, blowing himself up along with 13 Iraqi soldiers.
Al-Ajmi’s lawyer said this terrorist act was a consequence of his appalling treatment at Guantanamo. Jenifer Fenton of CNN reported in 2011 that “two people who knew Al-Ajmi described him as unstable when he returned from Guantanamo”.
Guantanamo has even come under heavy criticism from such figures as John Brennan, future Director of the CIA [2013-2017], when he said in 2011 as US Homeland Security Advisor that, “our nation will be more secure the day when that prison is finally and responsibly closed down”.
Despite all this, in July US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that Guantanamo was a “very fine place for holding these kinds of dangerous criminals”. Sessions revealed that, “We’ve spent a lot of money fixing it up… And I think the fact is that a lot of the criticisms have just been totally exaggerated”. Based on Sessions’ views, not exaggerated enough it would seem.
The American claims to Guantanamo have always been illegitimate to begin with – dating back to 1903 when Guantanamo was taken“under duress” by the US military. After independence from US domination in 1959, the Cuban government made repeated requests to relinquish what also contains their major port. Perhaps the principle reason behind American control of the island’s south-eastern part, is to hamper Cuba’s economic development while giving the US a foothold in the region.
Western politicians often cry foul over Cuba’s supposed “violations of human rights”, with no mention that easily the most extreme “violations” in the country occur at Guantanamo.
There are indeed minor concerns over infringements of human rights in Cuba – these cannot even compare to the practices of American client states and allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia – not to mention the crimes perpetrated by US-backed dictatorships in Latin America, Africa and so on.