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Proletarian issue 10 (February 2006)
Guantanamo –a focus on imperialist brutality
Social-democratic treachery and racist propaganda must not stop us from giving full solidarity to prisoners held in the US’s notorious torture centres.
Guantanamo Bay, on the western tip of Cuba, is occupied as a military base by US imperialism against the express wishes of the Cuban people and in spite of several resolutions in the UN calling on it to withdraw. In condemning the prison camp at Guantanamo, we also condemn the illegal occupation of part of Cuba by the US.

The US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay has focussed attention on the horrendously savage treatment that imperialism continues to mete out to the peoples of the world. US imperialism has justified and even publicised Guantanamo in its propaganda drive to support its illegal invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The imperialists claim that they are waging a ‘war on terror’ and that all measures are justified, including the kidnapping and torture of people picked up all over the world. They have justified their abandonment of the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war, which prohibits "violence to life and person, cruel treatment and torture", by virtue of unilaterally declaring that their victims are ‘unlawful combatants’ and not prisoners of war.

Many of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have never been involved in fighting at all, but if they had been, there would still be no justification for treating them like criminals. It is no crime to resist an illegal invasion of one’s own country, nor is it a crime to come to the aid of those who are being invaded abroad. Under international law, not only are provisions laid down for the proper treatment of prisoners of war, but it is expressly stated that in such cases, captors have no legal jurisdiction over either combatants or civilians – courts set up by occupying powers have no legitimacy,

In unilaterally overturning all these principles, US imperialism is sending out a message to the peoples of the oppressed countries about the treatment that anyone who takes a stand against imperialist subjugation can expect. It is saying, “we can do anything we like – we can kidnap people from anywhere in the world and torture them”. It is also sending the message to the people in the imperialist countries that they had better not complain, and that all kinds of draconian measures await them too if they do.

And yet the imperialists are sending out another, unintended, message. The men in Guantanamo may not individually be dangerous men; many of them were kidnapped merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time by imperialist forces that have never worried about inflicting arbitrary brutality. In likening them to the fictional Hannibal Lector, masking and dehumanising them and putting about propaganda about how dangerous they are, imperialism is in fact admitting that it is itself, after all, vulnerable. It may rattle its sabres all it likes; it may claim that it can do as it pleases, so great is its might, but, in the end, that might can be defeated. Whether directly connected to them or not, the men in Guantanamo represent the might of the liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples.

The ability of these struggles to beat imperialism has been shown by the anti-imperialist victories in countries such as Korea and Vietnam. Today, too, we see Anglo-American imperialism’s impotence in the face of the refusal of the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq to be occupied and subjugated. Although they can do ‘whatever they like’, the imperialists are at their wits’ end about what to do following the ‘great victories’ that they were only recently crowing about. And, lurking in the wings, there is always the spectre of the revolutionary struggle for socialism at home, led by its own working class.

It is imperialism itself that is the Hannibal Lector, dripping with the blood of humanity as it ravages the globe in its frantic pursuit of resources, markets, hegemony and, above all, maximum profit. But, growl as it will, in the end it is truly a paper tiger: it can be taken on, and it can be defeated.


Now we hear the archaic word ‘rendition’. Strictly speaking, this means the giving up of territory or persons. Today, it is used to describe the practice by the US (and Britain too, no doubt) of moving prisoners around the world - ‘handing them over’ to regimes that can be relied upon to torture them when it becomes embarrassing or difficult for the imperialists to do it themselves. There has been all kind of hypocritical humbug in parliament over whether or not ministers knew that US prisoners were passing through British airports. The reality is that they are the instigators, not the unknowing colluders, of this clandestine torture delegation system.

The very word is a misnomer. The propaganda is that imperialism is ‘giving up’ prisoners to unscrupulous regimes that will torture them; the truth is that imperialism is itself the arch-torturer.

In Britain, after the second world war, we were brought up on a diet of war comics in which German soldiers always looked evil and carried out unspeakable tortures, not only on captured allied soldiers but also on civilians in occupied Europe. It was at the same time inconceivable that British soldiers could do such things.

The reality, however, was and is that, brutal as German fascism was, the troops of British imperialism, as well as of US imperialism, have more than matched it over the years in subjugating the oppressed peoples of the world. These practices go back long before the rise of the third Reich and have carried on into the present, and no amount of hypocrisy and denial can prevent the information leaking out. Britain’s occupations in India and Africa are so full of incidents of murder and torture that it is impossible to list them all. Information finally got out, despite denials at the time, of death squads and a ‘shoot to kill’ policy in Ireland; of Irish detainees held without trial; of routine use of torture methods such as hooding, beating and white noise exposure. It is clear to all that Anglo-American imperialism has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq; and snippets of information are currently filtering out about the torture carried out by British and American troops and ‘sub-contractors’ in prisons and camps in Iraq.

Guantanamo is indeed only the tip of an iceberg.

Kangaroo courts and racist propaganda

Four years after the first prisoners were taken to Guantanamo from Afghanistan, military commissions are getting under way to bring prisoners, including some of the nine British residents still held there, to kangaroo-court trials.

These military commissions are empowered to accept secret evidence, denying the opportunity for defence; there is no right of appeal to an independent court; they are discriminatory (applying only to non-US nationals), and they admit both hearsay evidence and statements obtained under torture. Although the US Supreme Court is reviewing the legality of the commissions and has not yet reported, the US government is going ahead anyway.

One of those about to be ‘tried’ was only 15 when he was captured. He was denied all the rights that international law provides for juveniles and claims that he has suffered physical and sexual abuse while held by the US. The extent of torture at Guantanamo has been widely publicised, not least by the graphic accounts of UK citizens released from there.

Military commission proceedings are also about to be initiated in the case of Binyam Muhammad Al-Habashi, a British resident. Although the British government has stated that UK citizens should not be tried by such courts because they are not independent from the executive, which sets their rules, selects the judges and vets the final decision, they have done nothing to help British residents (ie, immigrants to Britain who do not hold citizenship) held in the prison camp. The clear message from this double standard – and from much of the propaganda surrounding Guantanamo – is that such treatment is perfectly acceptable when meted out to (black) ‘foreigners’.

Sadly, the British working class has become so inured to this kind of casual racism that many people hardly notice it and those that do find little opportunity to voice their concerns. This was evinced by the poor showing at a recent demonstration in support of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, which the social democrats who control much of the working-class movement made no efforts to publicise or to mobilise for. Since most of these social-democratic opportunists claim to be against racism and war, their reluctance to support the Guantanamo prisoners might at first seem inexplicable. In fact, though, these gentry are more than happy at the terrorisation of those who fight for justice and against imperialism. Their refusal to mobilise in support of those incarcerated is further proof of the willingness of social democrats to support fascist measures if that is the only way to save imperialism – just as they did in Germany, when they helped to crush the communist revolution and bring Hitler to power. Their ‘left’ hangers on among left Labourites, Trotskyites and revisionists, all of whom depend on support from the social democrats for the ‘influence’ they think they have in the working-class movement, have no choice but to go along with what the big boys want.

The social-democratic control of the British working-class movement, aided and abetted by the racism that Labour propagates with as much enthusiasm as the other bourgeois parties, is the key to imperialism’s ability to get away with the most outrageous attacks on workers all over the world. Today in Britain, the ruling class has given itself fascistic powers of arrest and imprisonment, whereby they do not even have to issue charges or produce a shred of evidence – only a ‘suspicion of terrorist activities’ is required. In other parts of Europe, governments are preparing for further assaults on working-class living standards by looking to pass laws illegalising communism. The British government may not have to bother; it already has laws that will enable it to lock up every communist, along with anybody consorting or suspected of consorting with communists – or, indeed, anybody making any kind of trouble for the ruling class – at will, just by claiming they are suspected terrorists.

While we in Britain sit idly by, allowing our fellow workers to be treated with such contempt, we are at the same time allowing ourselves to be divided from those that should be our strongest allies in the fight against our common oppressors. Would the Labour government feel so confident in attacking the NHS and pension provisions, for example, if the working class had not allowed itself to be so easily divided? Would they have been able to pass their draconian ‘anti-terror’ legislation if workers had not so easily accepted the lie that the laws were, of course, directed only at ‘outsiders’?

Solidarity with the Guantanamo hunger strikers

Despicable conditions prevail at the Guantanamo prison. The US is so scared of the world finding out the full truth of its behaviour that it has even refused UN officials unrestricted access to observe the camp. (Indeed, UN officials – who have been trying to visit the camp since it opened in January 2002 – rejected a US invitation finally issued last November because of the number of restrictions imposed.) The irony of this, in light of the song and dance over Iraq’s ‘non-compliance’ with UN weapons inspectors, will not be lost on the reader.

Denied of all political and legal rights, held under inhuman and unimaginably disgusting conditions, regularly tortured and interrogated, a large number of the detainees at Guantanamo have been staging a hunger strike in protest against their continued detention without trial and against the conditions of their imprisonment. The US military, notorious for underestimating such figures, reported in late December that the number of hunger strikers had risen to 84, over half of them having joined the protest on 25 December. (The Times, 30 December 2005) The US human rights group Center for Constitutional Rights has claimed that some 210 detainees are participating in the hunger strike.

There is significant evidence that the US military, in an effort to avoid scandal (!), and to break the potency of the strike, has been physically restraining and force feeding the hunger strikers.

The Times cites Binyam Mohammed, a Londoner, as saying: "I do not plan to stop until I either die or we are respected.

"People will definitely die. Bobby Sands petitioned the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial. He had the courage of his convictions and he starved himself to death. Nobody should believe for one moment that my brothers here have less courage."

We express our utmost solidarity with the Guantanamo hunger strikers, who are taking the last option left available to them in the fight for their rights. They must not fight alone! The working class and oppressed people of the world must unite in raising the demand for the immediate release of the Guantanamo prisoners and for the trying of the British and American warmongers for crimes against humanity.

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