America's Camp Delta, Guantanamo

660 Prisoners, 42 countries: No Rights, No Charges

Revolutionary Worker #1214, October 5, 2003, posted at

Camp Delta is a machinery for creating hopelessness and despair. This prison sits high on a cliff in the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay. It is cut off from the rest of Cuba by heavy fortification and rows of razor wire, and it is utterly isolated from the world in every way.

Most of the prisoners here have lived for 19 months in solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Prisoners are often bound and blindfolded. Their isolation in tiny 8x6 cells is broken only by the area's banana rats and relentless interrogations.

Prisoners are denied any news of the world and their families. Their prayer mats pointedly say "Mecca 12,793 kilometers"--to press on them that they are far from home, completely under the boot of their captors.

Shah Mohammad, a 23-year-old-Pakistani, is one of the 40 prisoners released from Guantánamo. He described how prisoners are forced to take drugs (BBC, May 22): "They used to tell me I was mad. I was given injections at least four or five times as well as different tablets."

Under such conditions, there have been 30 suicide attempts--including attempted hangings or cutting wrists on razor wire. ( Miami Herald , Aug. 24, 2003) Prisoners have reportedly also launched hunger strikes and other forms of resistance.

The U.S. command says the military holds 660 prisoners here from 42 countries, speaking 17 different languages. No reporter or lawyer has spoken to any prisoners. There is no public list of names. Often their families don't know what happened to them.

Most of these captives are prisoners of war--seized during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. More keep coming--men fingered for unknown reasons, kidnapped off the streets, often tortured by U.S. agents and then turned over Guantánamo's interrogation camp.

The Bush administration's $87 billion war budget is passing through Congress, and millions of that are spent expanding Camp Delta and making it permanent. Kellogg, Brown & Root, a company associated with Vice President Dick Cheney, brought in work crews from India and the Philippines to build the "maximum security" compounds surrounded by watchtowers and searchlights.

Lawlessness of a Rogue State

"It is a basic principle of international law that any detainee has the right to test the lawfulness of his or her detention in a court of law, By putting these detainees into a legal black hole, the U.S. administration is supporting a world where arbitrary unchallengeable detention becomes acceptable."

Amnesty International, March 12, 2003

Camp Delta makes a mockery of any claim by the U.S. to respect "human rights" or "rule of law."

The prisoners there have never been charged. They have not been allowed a chance to tell their story to the world. There are no lawyers. There are no hearings and no appeals.

These prisoners are not "innocent until proven guilty"--fact they are held guilty without proof.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC law professor who has joined a lawsuit on behalf of the Guantánamo detainees, wrote in the Los Angeles Times (March 25), "Several months ago, top-level administration officials were quoted as saying they knew many prisoners were being held in Guantánamo by mistake because of inaccurate intelligence from foreign governments and because of arrests made in the heat of battle. Therefore, individuals continue to be held even though it is known that they did not participate in terrorism and have no useful information..."

Three of the prisoners are boys aged 13 to 15.

All of this is completely unjust--and also completely illegal. There are international laws, including the Geneva Accords, that govern the treatment of prisoners of war. It is illegal to interrogate prisoners of war--who are only required to give information like name and rank. It is illegal to withhold the names of prisoners or hold them after the end of the war they fought in.

The U.S. government responds by claiming that neither U.S. nor international law apply to Camp Delta or the prisoners there. They have created a place of absolute and arbitrary power--with all the nightmarish cruelties and despair that such power can create.

The court cases charging the U.S. government with violating international and U.S. laws have, so far, simply been dismissed or rejected using maddening legal double-talk.

First, the U.S. government claims Geneva Conventions don't apply--they claim these captives are not really "prisoners of war" but "enemy combatants." In fact, many of these men were captured during war, fighting under the command of the Afghan government, and are clearly prisoners of war. The Geneva Accords establish that a "competent tribunal" must determine if a person is a prisoner of war or an enemy combatant--but the U.S. government has refused to comply. When court cases challenged this in U.S. courts, the government claimed they had no jurisdiction, and the judges agreed.

Second, the U.S. government claims that U.S. laws also don't apply. A case filed in federal court argued that the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo is, in fact, under U.S. jurisdiction and U.S. laws should apply (as it has always done in places like the Panama Canal Zone). On March 11, the DC federal circuit court rejected that argument. With truly Orwellian logic, this court upheld the U.S. government's claim that it is not the U.S., but the Cuban government, that is legally "sovereign" at Camp Delta.

This is a bizarre mockery of reality: Anyone with a brain knows that Cuba's government has no "sovereignty" over this base. Camp Delta would not exist for ten minutes if they did. The Guantánamo base was stolen from Cuba at gunpoint, and Cuban laws have never applied there because of the naked U.S. military occupation.

This March 11 ruling merely rubberstamped the U.S. government's move to create a legal "black hole" where the U.S. can do whatever they want to the prisoners of Camp Delta without any restraint by law. The ruling has been appealed to the Supreme Court by the Center for Consti- tutional Rights.

Meanwhile, many thousands of people are also being held in U.S. military prison camps in Iraq-- their numbers, their conditions and the charges they face are simply not known. And even there in Iraq, the name "Guantánamo" is well known--American officers report that when they pick up men and boys in armored sweeps, they threaten to send them to Guantánamo and watch fear cross the people's faces.

The Making of a Death Camp

After almost two years of interrogating prisoners at Guantánamo, the U.S. military authorities are admittedly frustrated by the limited information they could force from these prisoners--and so the Camp is being redesigned.

Step by step, the U.S. government intends to set up a "death chamber" at Camp Delta, and a death row.

The first step of this process is the "military tribunals" that the U.S. has threatened to use. On July 3, the Pentagon announced that President Bush had designated six prisoners who would be tried before military tribunals. They will be the first to face the threat of execution. Two of the six are British citizens and one is Australian. Their families are seeking to make an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nationalities of the other three are not known. Decisions about when to proceed will reportedly be made by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who heads the military tribunal apparatus.

The six prisoners will be condemned under tight security, in the isolation of Guantánamo. Ordinary rules of evidence and appeal don't apply. Lawyers "representing" the prisoners will be under military discipline. Even acquittal in these rigged tribunals doesn't mean what it usually means. William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon's top lawyer, said: "If we had a trial right this minute, it is conceivable that somebody could be tried and acquitted of that charge but may not necessarily automatically be released."

These are plans for kangaroo courts for the sole purpose of starting to execute prisoners-- they are an insult to justice and intended to further terrorize anyone who falls into U.S. clutches.

Meanwhile, important voices have started to speak out against these tribunals: Amnesty International responded to the White House announcement by saying: "Any trial before these military commissions would be a travesty of justice." Don Rehkopf, a leading member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' military law committee, said, "It would be unethical for any attorney to agree to the conditions they've set. You have to agree to waive the attorney-client privilege so that the government can monitor your conversations. It's a total farce."

As we go to press, the U.S. government has announced that it is investigating members of its own military for trying to leak information about the prisoners of Camp Delta. Two have been arrested so far, and one, Senior Airman Ahmad Al-Halabi, 24, faces a possible death penalty for passing on information about the Delta Camp prisoners to the Middle East. This includes information that international law requires the U.S. government to provide--yet now someone may face execution for leaking it.

The arrests have thrown official Washington into a frenzy over how to tighten secrecy around Camp Delta-- without a visible hint of criticism about the gross violation of justice and international norms that are going on there. Sen. Charles Schumer, a prominent liberal Democrat from New York, said, "It is both painful and baffling to have breaches at our most guarded facility."

The fact is that the U.S. government wants to use Camp Delta to terrify the world--and also wants to suppress the truth about what they do there. They have dropped a veil of secrecy over these prisoners while orchestrating shameless media reports that "these prisoners never had it so good at home." And they threaten to execute anyone, including their own soldiers , who leaks news of the prisoners (which puts a obvious threat over any defense lawyer who may participate in future military tribunals!).

The U.S. government preaches to the world about its so-called "values." America, we are told, is the beacon of civilization, rule of law, freedom, and human rights. But looking at Camp Delta, the world sees a different face. This is a true "freedom-free" zone--a torture camp designed to strike terror throughout an empire.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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