The Gulag of our Time: Amnesty International condemns Guantanamo Bay

Amnesty International published a report last Wednesday, condemning the US and UK betrayal of the cause of human rights in the so-called “war on terror” and urged the US to shut down its Guantanamo Bay camp. The report is a condemnation of the hypocritical policies and actions of the two imperialist powers.

Amnesty International published a report last Wednesday, May 25 condemning the US and UK betrayal of the cause of human rights in the so-called “war on terror” and urged the US to shut down its Guantanamo Bay camp. The report is a condemnation of the hypocritical policies and actions of the two imperialist powers, and has enraged both the Bush and Blair administrations.

Irene Khan, Amnesty International general secretary, while at a press conference announcing the release of the report, accused both governments of condoning torture while trying to keep a clean conscience. As Khan said, “A new agenda is in the making, with the language of freedom and justice being used to pursue policies of fear and insecurity. This includes cynical attempts to redefine and sanitize torture.” (Guardian, May 26 2005).

She exposed the hypocrisy of the UK in trying to use the language of “freedom and justice” in Iraq while at the same time insisting that the Human Rights Act does not apply to its soldiers there.

The report exposes Britain’s attempt to forge diplomatic agreements with countries such as Algeria, to which it wants to deport people and detainees. “By seeking assurances for particular cases, [the UK government] was admitting that torture was entrenched in those countries and was therefore, in effect, condoning the practice, she said.” (Guardian, May 26 2005).

The Amnesty report also condemned the UK’s illegal detention of prisoners. Although the highest court in the UK ruled that the indefinite detention of “suspected international terrorists” without charges being laid and without trial was illegal, 12 men are still being detained or held under house arrest.

Khan explained that the US claimed to be promoting freedom in Iraq, yet its soldiers had been involved in unspeakable acts of cruelty, torture and sexual abuse. She also said that evidence had since come to light “that the US administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violated the UN Convention against Torture.” She then described Guantanamo Bay as “the Gulag of our time, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.” The Gulag of course refers to the system of concentration camps set up by Stalin in the former Soviet Union. This is a damning accusation against the United States.

US vice president Dick Cheney, said on Larry King Live on Monday, May 30 that “Frankly, I was offended by [the Amnesty report].” He then stated that, “For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously.” Incredibly he then claimed that detainees at the camp had been “well treated, treated humanely and decently”. Amidst reports and claims that US soldiers and guards have tortured and sexually abused prisoners at the camp, Cheney’s claims are extremely disgusting and hypocritical. Cheney has taken doublespeak to new levels, where “treated humanely” means that prisoners are tortured and “treated decently” means they were sexually abused.

Ms. Khan also said, “The US administration attempted to dilute the absolute ban on torture through new policies and quasi-management speak such as ‘environmental manipulation’, ‘stress positions’, and ‘sensory manipulation’.” When representatives of the US government say ‘Environmental manipulation’ what they mean is exposure to the elements and exposure/lack of exposure to light, ‘stress positions’ is doublespeak for torture, and ‘sensory manipulation’ means sensory deprivation and solitary confinement. In order to get around UN conventions and International law the US has attempted to create a clean language to hide their actions in Guantanamo and keep their consciences clear.

Under the Freedom of Information Act the Associated Press of London was able to get hold of some 1,000 pages of tribunal transcripts from Guantanamo. There are still some 520 prisoners being held there from 40 countries around the world. One prisoner told the military tribunal that he was beaten so badly that he can no longer control his bladder. Another told the panel that prisoners in Afghanistan were stripped and intimidated with dogs so that they would admit to terrorist activity. The names and nationality of most of the prisoners have been blacked out in the documents released to the press, and some have said that the medical problems they have developed from abuse and torture have not been taken seriously. “Americans hit me and beat me up so badly I believe I’m sexually dysfunctional. I don’t know if I'll be able to sleep with my wife or not,” he said. “I can’t control my urination, and sometimes I put toilet paper down there so I won’t wet my pants ... I point to where the pain is. ... I think they take it as a joke and they laugh.” (Associated Press, May 31, 2005). The president of the tribunal promised the man who said this that he would raise his medical complaint with authorities but according to the press, “in five pages of questioning, [he] never brought up the alleged abuse.” Other prisoners have claimed that they were sold into imprisonment, and that the US government was paying bounty money to get their hands on suspected terrorists. Many of the prisoners claim that they are innocent and that they were simply sold to the US by desperate people for anything from $3,000 to $25,000 dollars.

The enemy combatant tribunals, which form the content of the transcripts obtained by the Associated Press of London, were charged with determining whether the prisoners were indeed enemy combatants – not investigating allegations of abuse and torture. In a statement released on Sunday May 29, the Pentagon claimed that “U.S. troops treat detainees humanely and ‘U.S. policy condemns and prohibits torture.’” The Pentagon statement added that “authorities take claims of abuse seriously.” (Associated Press, May 31, 2005). Given the torture and abuse cases at Abu Ghraib, and the fact that no senior military officials or government figures have been punished, it is difficult to believe this statement.

It is hard to see how the Pentagon takes these charges seriously. The enemy combatant tribunals were quickly set up after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their imprisonment before U.S. courts. The tribunal transcripts do not say how many abuse allegations have been investigated and confirmed. It has been claimed that members of the tribunal are supposed to take abuse allegations to the Joint Task Force running the detention mission – which basically means that they go nowhere and nothing is done about the allegations.

The fact that the term “enemy combatants” is used exposes the intentions of the US in imprisoning these people. A person declared an “enemy combatant” is not considered a POW (Prisoner of War) and is not subject to the Geneva Convention. These “enemy combatants” can then be held indefinitely in military custody and detention. They also have no rights of communication, can be interrogated and are beyond the reach of any judicial review. The US simply changed the term under which these people are held so that they can break the Geneva Convention, because POWs are guaranteed certain rights under the Convention. If a law does not suit the imperialists, they simply change the terms of the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled last year that federal US courts have jurisdiction over Guantanamo prisoners along with the right to challenge their detention. However, no detainee has done this yet. And although the US government told the detainees that they did indeed have the right to challenge their imprisonment, prisoners were also told that they had no basis under constitutional or international law to actually challenge their detention.

The Bush administration trumps all over the world, threatening death, destruction and war to all of those countries that its considers are not “democratic” and countries that do no follow “the rule of law”. The Amnesty report absolutely exposes the hypocrisy of the Bush government, which has flagrantly disregarded the rule of law, and ignores its own institutions of “justice”.

“President Bush’s refusal to apply the Geneva Conventions to those captured during the international armed conflict in Afghanistan and transferred to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was challenged by a judicial decision in November. The ruling resulted in the suspension of trials by military commission in Guantánamo, and the government immediately lodged an appeal. The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the ‘war on terror’ continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to ‘disappearance.’”

Along with the abuses at Guantanamo Bay, the Amnesty report also exposed the fact that the US has detained thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan and denied most of them access to lawyers and family.

William Shultz, the executive director of Amnesty International’s US branch, also issued a warning to top US officials: “The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera,” he said, “because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998.” He also added, in reference to fact that there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity, “Let’s keep in mind that these issues can be pursued years from now, not just today.”

Amnesty International placed the US on its list of human rights abusers, something which has enraged the Bush administration. The US finds itself on the list with China, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Haiti, Russia, and Afghanistan amongst others. Although it was always disgusting and hypocritical, now that Amnesty International has exposed the US on its human rights record, the US will find it more difficult to sit on their moral high horse and preach about “human rights”.

US imperialism has never really cared about human rights. They were only interested in human rights so long as it could be used to serve their interests. The US government goes on and on about human rights abuses in Cuba, in order to put pressure on the Cuban government and to find excuses to attack the country. How can the Bush administration even mention these “abuses” when it presides over the Guantanamo camp on the island, or talk about the “war on terror” when it harbours Luis Posada Carriles, a suspected terrorist? The US government also doesn’t seem to be too bothered about the murdering of trade unionists in Colombia and other human rights abuses there. Why? Because the Uribe government is a staunch ally of Bush in the region. The US was so concerned about human rights in Iraq (even while it denies Iraqis their basic human rights), because this gave them the excuse they needed to justify the invasion (when they could no longer talk about WMD), yet they aren’t so concerned about atrocities in Darfur. The list could go on and on.

As long as capitalism and imperialism remain the dominant system on the planet, a genuine respect for human rights will never be achieved. Human rights have simply become a tool in the interests of imperialism. Human rights abuses (real or fictitious) are cynically cited by the US and other imperialist countries when they wish to destabilize or launch military operations against a given country, and these same human rights abuses go ignored as long as the interests of imperialism are served, such as in Colombia.

As long as there is capitalism, there will be poverty and misery, and as long as these exist there will be strife, and human rights abuses. These problems cannot be legislated away, and no amount of declarations or conventions will ever be able to stop human rights abuses. Many clauses in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are broken on a daily basis. There is however one important clause that has been trampled underfoot:

Article 25

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

We have written several times that it has been estimated that for $80 billion dollars a year for ten years, the points in this clause could be achieved. We must actually solve the problems that cause human rights abuses: poverty and misery. This will never be achieved under capitalism. A genuine human society must be established, a socialist society, one based on equality and production for need not profit. This will be the only way to guarantee a decent standard of living for all, and the only way to end all the want and the struggle for survival in the world, and the only way to guarantee everyone’s human rights.