Guantánamo Hunger Strike ExposesU.S. Imperialism’s Torture Camp Horrors
On Wednesday, October 5, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sponsored a forum at New York Universtiy Law School to publicize the United States’ depraved policy of torturing and murdering prisoners in dozens of secret, remote military installations across the globe as part of its self-styled “war on terror”. The featured speaker was James Yee, the former U.S. Army captain and Muslim chaplain at the American torture camp in Guantánamo, Cuba, whom the government tried to frame as a traitor after he passed on complaints from the prisoners to his superior officers. Gita Gutierrez of the CCR reported on the spreading resistance at the “Gitmo” prison camp, where prisoners are waging a hunger strike protesting their imprisonment without charges or trial. The U.S. has tried to keep news of this from getting out by preventing lawyers from communicating with inmates. While the Bush administration now admits that a dozen or so prisoners are refusing to eat, and that there were previous hunger strikes in 2002 and 2003, Gutierrez reported that hundreds of prisoners are risking their lives to participate in the protest.
Speaking before a packed hall, Gutierrez delivered an electrifying report of current conditions at Guantánamo, while stressing that this U.S. torture camp is but one of many. The prisoners have been held incommunicado, unprotected before their tormentors, many of them for years, although they have not been charged with any crimes. They are kept in tiny cages, whether in Camp X-Ray at “Gitmo,” as the military refers to the base the U.S. stole from Cuba, or in camps in Iraq, Afghanistan, Tadjikistan, or . . . who knows where. Gutierrez told how some are kept in specially constructed dungeons on aircraft carriers at sea. Still others are “rendered” – turned over by the U.S. to other governments notorious for torturing prisoners, especially Mubarak’s Egypt (see Janet Mayer, “Outsourcing Torture: The Secret History of America’s ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ Program,” The New Yorker, 14 February 2005). Bush and his Dr. Strangelove war secretary Rumsfeld grotesquely call their prisoners “detainees,” as if they are travelers unavoidably but temporarily detained, rather than victims of a seemingly permanent imperialist nightmare.
The prisoners are subject to a catalog of abuses worthy of Hitler’s Nazis. But the U.S. imperialists don’t need Nazi inspiration. There was worldwide outrage in 2004 when some of the hidden truth came out about the Abu Ghraib and Bucca torture camps in Iraq. What took place there was part of a consistent policy. The U.S. used similar tactics in its brutal war against the Vietnamese a generation ago (recall the infamous “tiger cages” at Poulo Condor, a prison island inherited from the French colonial rulers). Moreover, many of these abuses have been practiced for decades against the mounting, heavily black prison population within the U.S. of over 2 million behind bars. Now thousands of Near Easterners – men, women, even children – are being subjected to a series of horrific practices which, to paraphrase 1960s black radical H. Rap Brown, are “as American as cherry pie.” These include beatings with fists, batons, rifle butts, metal bars, often to the point of permanent maiming, and sometimes death.
If the Nazis with Prussian bureaucratic thoroughness left a detailed log of their slaughter of millions of European Jews (and others, including Communists, Slavs, Roma, homosexuals) in the Holocaust, the practices of the U.S. torture archipelago are documented in legalese in a string of White House and Department of Justice memos. Approved torture techniques included: mock executions, being kicked while manacled, dog attacks, total isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, cultural and sexual humiliation, being forced to stand or sit in positions causing excruciating pain, being beaten for moving, electric shock, filthy food, dirty water, extremes of heat and cold, dehydration, being screamed at and cursed, forced to imitate animals, being anally penetrated with batons, and more. A favorite of the torturers at the Pentagon and CIA is the technique of simulated and sometimes actual drowning (cynically called “waterboarding” as if it is some kind of sport).
The abuses are seemingly endless, and have been investigated by a number of groups. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has placed a great deal of documentation on the Internet (at www.phrusa.org), including a comprehensive document, Break Them Down: Systematic Use Of Psychological Torture by US Forces (May 2005). A particular focus of the PHR is the deadly practices of U.S. imperialism’s Dr. Mengeles, sadistic doctors who participate in the torture, providing medical data to interrogators, force-feeding prisoners, injecting them with psychosis-inducing drugs, tormenting them in psychotherapy sessions. Doctors who do not cooperate are reprimanded or reassigned. PHR wants to bar the torture docs from practicing medicine, which is the least of what should happen to them. The Center for Constitutional Rights has published a hair-raising account of U.S. barbarism, Detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, by three young torture camp survivors, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, and Rhuhel Ahmed, who managed to get out due to their British citizenship (available on the CCR Web site, www.ccr-ny.org).
terrify prisoner at Abu Ghraib with dog.
The CCR has led the effort to gain access to the Guantánamo prisoners and challenge the government’s claim it can with total impunity indefinitely imprison anyone anywhere in the world it calls an “enemy combatant.” The U.S. says there are about 500 prisoners left at “Gitmo,” mainly Muslim citizens of so-called Third World countries, many of whom have been living in that nightmare for four years. Tormented beyond endurance, with no hope of getting out, they have found the strength to resist, resorting to an act of desperation out of necessity. Gutierrez reported that in the hunger strike against the abominable conditions at Guantánamo, an estimated 200 prisoners may be near death. The present strike is a direct continuation of the preceding one, earlier this summer, which was called off after the jailers ostensibly granted some concessions. However, no concessions were ever made. Instead, once the strikers were eating again, they were subjected to even worse treatment than before. Many current hunger strikers have been force-fed through tubes forced down their noses.
James Yee also recounted his story to the New York audience. While at Guantánamo and in his role as Muslim chaplain, Yee was told by prisoners that they lived in constant fear, under a regime of psychological and physical torture, preyed upon by sadistic guards, interrogators, and doctors. Yee, pretty much a straitlaced military man, passed on prisoners’ complaints to his superior officer. The Army retaliated against him, attempting to frame him up as an “Al Qaeda” operative. In September 2003 he was given “leave” and then seized; taken to Jacksonville Naval Air Station, he was subjected to the same kind of sensory deprivation the government practices on Guantánamo prisoners. He was eventually dumped in a maximum security military prison in South Carolina, where he was kept in solitary confinement for 76 days. At first, Yee’s Syrian wife and his children were told nothing and were frantic about his whereabouts. When U.S. agents finally told Mrs. Yee that her husband was in prison, they treated her like a criminal too, and tried to turn her against him by lying about her husband having sex with coworkers.
Court papers were filed indicating that Yee would face charges of “espionage, spying, aiding the enemy, mutiny or sedition, and disobeying an order. His attorneys were told that he could face execution” (USA Today, 16 May 2004). Pro-war mass media then went into action, with the fanatical right-wing Washington Times leading the way, accusing Yee of treason. The case against him, however, was a pack of lies, so the government quickly moved to Plan B, charging Yee with an absurd grab-bag of minor infractions – from mishandling a classified document to more far-fetched fabrications involving “adultery” and “possession of pornography.” (This obsession with inflicting sexual humiliation on its victims runs through the entire repressive apparatus of the U.S. government to an extent suggesting that its bureaucracies are led by some serious psychos.) Once the paltry charges were made public, it was clear that the government had nothing – they were eventually dropped for lack of eveidence. Yee still had to fight a long battle to expunge Army lies from his record and secure an honorable discharge – which he did.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has won a number of small victories recently, including getting the Pentagon to release hundreds more photos of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, and challenging the Homeland Security prison in Brooklyn, where hundreds of Arabs were thrown in an outrageous racist roundup in the aftermath of 9/11. It has also secured lawyers for many Guantánamo prisoners and has filed habeas corpus petitions for 230 of them. The government has fought them every step of the way. The habeas corpus petitions, for example, may have to go to the Supreme Court, which could take years and would be unbearable for the prisoners. The military have gone to great lengths deprive their prisoners of any legal protection. Interrogators imitate lawyers, sometimes for weeks, speaking abusively to prisoners, then show up in military dress, to sow confusion and mistrust of lawyers. Prisoners who have legitimate lawyers are told, “Your lawyer is a Jew. He doesn’t care about you!” Prisoners report that after the lawyer leaves, they are beaten. And, as Gutierrez pointed out, Guantánamo is the easiest site to visit. Thousands are being held in total isolation in even more remote or completely secret locations.
As Marxists we support efforts to gain legal protection for the victims of U.S. imperialism. But we warn that there is no justice for the oppressed in the capitalist injustice system. When the CCR sued for the right of Guantánamo prisoners to have U.S. court hearings, and received a favorable (but vague) ruling from the Supreme Court under right-wing chief justice Rehnquist, (Rasul v. Bush, June 2004), the government simply ignored it. Even if the “detainees” had their “day in court,” this is no guarantee that they would get fair treatment. On the contrary, the courts have upheld the president’s right to arbitrarily declare individuals “enemy combatants” without any proof at all. Last week, the U.S. Senate attached a rider to a military appropriations bill supposedly banning inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners. Not only will this be knocked out in conference with the House of Representatives, or vetoed by the White House, even if passed and signed into law it would not stop this regime whose whole purpose is to terrorize the world into submission.
Even where “human rights” groups are not simply stalking horses for a wing of the imperialists (such as the Zionist Human Rights Watch and the British Amnesty International who beat the drums for war on Yugoslavia), they at most seek to clean up imperialism’s act and give it a more humane face. The CCR calls to pressure Democrats like New York senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. Yet these capitalist politicians wholeheartedly support the U.S.’ “war on terror,” of which the torture prisons are an integral part, accusing Bush & Co. of waging this imperialist war incompetently. From Afghanistan and Iraq today back to the U.S. and French in Vietnam and Algeria, and further back to the bloody U.S. takeover of the Philippines and the genocidal conquest of the Congo by Belgium (which has the gall to arrest African tyrants for crimes against humanity) at the turn of the last century, colonial wars are always accompanied hideous torture and wanton slaughter. The source of these horrors is the capitalist system itself, which generates endless war, poverty and racist oppression, and must be overthrown.
In calling to “drive out the Bush regime,” as various pseudo-socialist reformists (such as the Maoist RCP and the Stalinoid WWP) do, they are giving back-handed support to the Democrats, who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the war on Vietnam. The Internationalist Group fights instead to drive out all the racist capitalist politicians (Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as minor league bourgeois pols like immigrant basher Ralph Nader) and build a revolutionary workers party. As they were going to the gallows in 1927, the Italian anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti, who were murdered by the capitalist state, said to their hundreds of thousands of supporters around the world, La salute è in voi (Redemption is up to you). Only through international socialist revolution will the heinous war criminals from Bush and Rumsfeld on down meet the fate the fate they deserve and rid this world of oppression once and for all. n
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