Guantanamo Bay is a stain on the image of America. How could a country defined by its freedoms condone a project like the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay? Created in 2002 by the Bush Administration as a grounds for holding high-level captives from the war in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, information about the practices of the detention camp soon leaked out, and allegations of misconduct and even torture surfaced. Despite the best efforts of the Obama Administration to close Guantanamo Bay, although many of its prisoners have since been transferred elsewhere, the U.S. Congress has prohibited the detention camp’s closing, because that would mean transferring its prisoners to detention facilities in the U.S., an unpalatable prospect for voters. Thus, Guantanamo still sits in limbo, continuing to stain the fabric of American liberty.
Guantanamo Bay lies at the southern tip of the island of Cuba. The name Guantanamo was given by the original inhabitants of the island, called Tainos. The crew of Christopher Columbus arrived there in 1494 C.E., calling the bay Puerto Grande. The Bay remained in the hands of Spanish settlers until 1741, when it was overtaken briefly by British soldiers and renamed Cumberland Bay. The name didn’t last long, as British soldiers were quickly repelled by thousands of guerrilla fighters. The Bay would soon switch hands again; this time to the Americans.
Spain’s control over the island was tenuous, and growing cries for independence by its native inhabitants were not lost on the ears of the opportunistic United States, which seldom misses the chance to intervene at the expense of a rival. The U.S. Navy and later Marine Corps invaded Guantanamo bay in 1898, and with the assistance of the native inhabitants, defeated the Spanish forces, thus claiming Guantanamo Bay for the United States.
Cuba became an independent country following the completion of its sustained revolution throughout the 1950s. The ownership of Guantanamo Bay, however, remained with the United States. Interestingly enough, the Bay is only being leased by the U.S. government, and American checks paying for this rental property have been dutifully handed over to the Cuban government, which refuses to cash them out of protest. If you didn’t know, Cuba and the United States have not historically gotten along since the Cold War, but things are cooling down now as a result of the Obama Administration’s incremental efforts to improve relations.
After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, Guantanamo Bay was designated as the detention camp for the worst of the worst. It was controversial because inmates were denied habeus corpus (a requirement of the U.S. Constitution that criminals receive a fair trial) and Bush Administration legal experts said the same restrictions applied for the Geneva Convention (international treatises regarding humanitarian treatment of captured combatants).
In 2006, the case of Hamdan V. Rumsfeld was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hamdan was a Yemeni, as well as a member of al-Qaeda who was captured in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense for the Bush Administration. In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan’s favor, acknowledging that inmates at Guantanamo were to be covered by the Geneva Conventions, and entitled to habeus corpus.
Who was Hamdan? He was a taxi driver from Yemen. He drove Osama bin Laden a few times, and heard him speak in person. He supported al-Qaeda, but was never charged with hurting anyone. He is now back in Yemen, and his entire experience is recalled word for word by him in the documentary “The Oath” (here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Oath-Salim-Hamdan/dp/B003PTP5H6).
Torture did occur at Guantanamo Bay. This is reported by Hamdan in the film, and it was also reported to Bob Woodward, perhaps America’s most famous political journalist, by a high-level Bush Administration insider. Conversely, it was revealed in the documentary film Sicko, by Michael Moore, that the inmates of Guantanamo Bay received better healthcare, administered by the U.S. Military and funded by U.S. tax payers, than did the average American citizen.
The truth is, the U.S. government wants Guantanamo Bay closed down, for the same reasons it wants to end its buddy-buddy relationship with Israel: bad press. Just as the relationship with Israel hurts American credibility in the Arab world specifically, Guantanamo Bay is an even wider symbolic stain on America’s integrity. It violates everything we hope that our country stands for, and Americans aren’t the only ones privy to this notion.
But, there are politics involved. As hard as it may try, the Obama Administration will not be able to close Guantanamo Bay without the help of Congress. And Congress won’t approve this, because it will mean transferring the inmates to prison facilities in the United States, which is oh so very scary to the average simple-minded American. Even though new inmates are not being received at Guantanamo, the detention center continues to operate with a few inmates still housed there.
But, if its torture you’re angry about, or “extraordinary rendition” as its euphemistically called by the U.S. government, the worst cases were not at Guantanamo Bay. If you live in a Muslim country that is a close ally of the United States, like (Mubarak’s) Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, there is a good possibility that your government is complicit. “The U.S. doesn’t torture.” That’s the famous slogan of the Bush Era. The full slogan, though, should be more like, “The U.S. doesn’t torture inside the U.S. or with our own personnel.” But they were happy to transfer prisoners from Iraq and Afghanistan to nearby locations in allied countries, where the U.S. just had to stand back and ask questions.
Of course, we don’t want to exaggerate the frequency of such tactics, because we don’t know exactly what went on in the past or what is occurring currently. Thankfully, the Obama Administration, though it is disappointingly continuing the war in Afghanistan, which by the way doesn’t end in 2014, but simply replaces “soldiers” with “contractors,” has been much better on the subject of human rights than the Bush Administration. But until the U.S. can say “We don’t torture” and mean it in its fullest sense, the flag of liberty will forever be tarnished by stains like Guantanamo Bay.