By Dennis Loo (1/18/14)
This is the text of Dennis Loo’s prepared remarks at the Close Guantanamo Now national tour’s last stop on Friday, 1/17/14, at the University Theater, Cal Poly Pomona, before an audience of approximately 240 people. A videotape of the entire event, featuring Andy Worthington and Dennis Loo, and a very useful Q & A, will be available next week.
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Why is GTMO still open? Why was it opened in the first place? What can and must we do about this?
First, some geographical and historical background: Guantanamo Bay is on Cuba’s southeastern end, separated by high hills from the rest of the island. The US seized Guantanamo Bay in the aftermath of the 1899 Spanish-American War. Overriding the Cuban government’s wishes to have Guantanamo back under their control, the US continues to maintain an indefinite lease over GTMO.
The Bush Regime selected GTMO in 2002 because it sits on foreign land, thus providing what they intended to be a legal gray area to skirt US and international laws regarding detention and prohibitions against inhumane treatment, including torture. Because the Geneva Conventions specify that POWs shall be treated humanely and not subjected to torture, Bush et al created a whole new category, dubbing the prisoners “unlawful enemy combatants,” thereby claiming that these were not soldiers or civilians but a never before existing category who are not entitled to humane treatment.
Even the right-wing dominated US Supreme Court eventually ruled by a 5-4 vote in 2008 in the Boumediene et al v. Bush decision that the White House may not continue to deny prisoners their right to challenge your detention in front of a judge, with the government compelled to show why it has at least a minimal basis to continue to hold you. Habeas corpus hearings, which are what this right is called, it should be understood, are not hearings to determine guilt or innocence. They are to determine if the government has even the most minimal grounds to allege that you are a criminal.
Without habeas corpus rights, without the right to challenge your detention, any government can lock anyone up it regards as a nuisance or rival merely on its own say so. Since stating it baldly that way makes it crystal clear why doing away with habeas corpus is unacceptable, the way that core civil liberties are customarily encroached upon is for governments to say that they have to abridge these rights because they are dealing with really bad people, what Bush et al called “the worst of the worst” and what Obama calls those “who want to harm the US.” Once people go along with exceptions to civil liberties because they think the ones who are having their rights suspended are really bad people and they have been sufficiently frightened by those in authority, then the door is opened to progressively expand the kind of people whose rights are being suspended, and eventually it spreads to include virtually everyone. That is in fact what has been happening in the US.
Rights and principles exist and can only be maintained if they are respected even when and especially when upholding those principles is in the face of adverse popular opinion. Otherwise principles have no meaning. Principles are supposed to be hard to uphold and people who jettison those principles in the face of difficulty are not the kind of people to respect or follow. You want to studiously avoid such people because following them is soon or later fatal.
As you can see, habeas corpus rights are the linchpin for the right to dissent and to political challenge. All a government has to do is claim that you are a criminal and if it doesn’t have to show any basis for that claim, it can hold you indefinitely. That is what exists now since Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act which extended to the military powers that the Bush and Obama White Houses had already assumed for themselves: that merely on the basis of an accusation - by anyone in authority or in the chain of command - that you’re a terrorist, you will have your rights taken away from you and if you’re a US citizen, your US citizenship will be taken away. This is guilt and even death sentence determined merely by accusation, not by any adjudication in a court of law where proof and evidence are necessary and where due process is required to ensure that innocent parties are not unjustly persecuted.
That is why the existence of recognized habeas corpus rights is the hallmark of a country operating under the rule of law and due process. Its absence is a sure sign of a tyranny. Most people in this country have not been told that this is what is going on and thus most people are unaware that the foundations that they thought were so sure and sound underneath them have been systematically destroyed the way termites eat away at a house. Most people don’t know, as one illustration of this, that Congress has passed a law explicitly labeling those who monitor what agribusinesses are doing by videotaping their mistreatment of chickens and cows as literally “terrorists” under the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act” of 2006.
Here is another thing that most people don’t know: they think that the reason why Obama has been unable to close GTMO is because Congress is blocking him and if he did what he really wants to do, this infamous symbol of US lawlessness would be closed. As we pointed out in the World Can't Wait’s NYT ad, which I was the principal author of, this is utterly untrue. For example, while Congress includes those who don’t want GTMO closed, it was Obama himself who quietly in January 2013 closed the State Department office in charge of arranging releasing prisoners from GTMO. No one in Congress asked for him to do this. He did this on his own. While Obama cites Congressional resistance as the reason why he can’t honor his high profile promise to close GTMO, Congressional resistance to his drone assassination program has not stopped Obama doing it irrespective of the fact that he has killed thousands, including hundreds of children. Do you know what the military said about a particularly egregious incident in which three children were killed by drones while gathering firewood? They claimed that these children were militants and deserved to be killed.
Congressional opposition has not prevented Obama from dodging Congressional subpoenas for White House representatives to come to Congress and testify as to why drones are suitable. What Obama is doing relative to GTMO is like a guy who pretends that he wants to fight someone and keeps telling his friends “hold me back” so that he can’t actually raise his fists and engage in the fight.
When he ran for the White House in 2008 Obama stated:
“We will lead in the observance of human rights, and the rule of law, and civil rights and due process, which is why I will close Guantanamo and I will restore habeas corpus and say no to torture. Because if you elect me, you will have elected a president who has taught the Constitution, who believes in the Constitution, and who will restore and obey the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Why did he promise these things? Because most Americans are really into torturing people and think that indefinite detention and preventive detention are the best thing since sliced bread? Hardly. Obama promised to do these things precisely because he knows that most people want and understand the need to respect the rule of law and protect human rights. Why then has he done the very opposite of what he promised? Is it that he didn’t hear what the General Counsel for the US Navy said before Congress in 2008?
Alberto J. Mora, General Counsel, United States Navy, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June17, 2008, testified that:
U.S. flag-rank officers … maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq—as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat—are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
On the contrary, Obama knows full well that keeping GTMO open does great harm to the US’s image in the world as a respecter of human rights and the rule of law and provokes people into attacking the US. He has said so himself in his May 2013 speech about GTMO:
GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.
Look, however, at the very next sentence in this speech:
Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO.
This sentence and the one preceding it are an example of having your cake and eating it too. Obama says that GTMO is a bad symbol because it shows the world that the US flouts the rule of law thereby showing what a respecter of the rule of law he is, then in the very next sentence he does exactly what he was criticizing, flouts the law, by declaring definitively that those sent to GTMO are “terrorists.” How do you know they’re terrorists Mr. President? Because you’ve paid millions in bounty payments for those turned in as alleged “terrorists?” How do you know they’re terrorists if they’re been denied a habeas corpus hearing to have any evidence that alleges such is produced before a judge?
Obama goes on to say in this speech:
Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?
Obama is trying to distance himself from the very acts that he is personally responsible for as POTUS: ordering the force-feeding of detainees, ordering the closure of the office charged with releasing detainees, continuing to hold onto GTMO against the wishes of the Cuban people. As I wrote in an article in response to this speech at my website, DennisLoo.com, it isn’t who WE are, Mr. Obama. It is who YOU are.
Why refuse to close GTMO then? Why incur the wrath that he acknowledges is incurred by refusing to close it and maintaining torture and rendition (kidnapping people and sending them hooded and shackled to secret sites in Third World countries like Somalia to be tortured and sometimes killed)?
The answer to this question is simple but it is also hard for many people to acknowledge because the answer is distressing. The answer is the same answer as one can give to all other Empires that have existed in human history: in order to maintain their empire, those in charge of those empires cannot preserve those empires merely by persuading other peoples and other countries that are under the domination of the empire to remain subordinated and utterly dominated by the empire. Empires by definition mean that there is a huge disparity in power. Empires can only exist against the wishes of those it suppresses and exploits. And they can only continue to suppress others through force and through outright terror. Terror is an absolutely indispensable part of maintaining the US imperialist empire.
The so-called “war on terror” is not designed to eliminate the causes of anti-state terror. Indeed, if you look carefully and objectively at what is being done in the name of the WOT you will see that authorities are doing exactly the opposite of what you would do if you really wanted to minimize or eliminate terrorism.
This is the single biggest secret of the WOT: anti-state terror and state-sponsored terror (that is, terror inflicted by governments) fuel each other and require each other. The use of torture and instruments of terror like drones which fly overhead of Pakistani villages for hours on end, intended to intimidate the villagers, are used on purpose against mostly entirely innocent individuals because the point of their use is to make people think that if they don’t co-operate utterly and fully with those in power, then they or their loved ones could be the next arbitrarily and capriciously selected victim of torture and death. The point, in other words, is to be indiscriminate. That is the essence of terrorism, whether it is used by groups seeking to overthrow the government or by the government itself: its very indiscriminateness.
As long as Americans buy into the WOT’s profoundly immoral logic - that any measures are acceptable, including torture and murder, if it’s supposed to protect American lives because American lives are more valuable than others - then Americans will collude in crimes against humanity. The only correct stance in the face of this is to be an internationalist: to regard everyone’s lives as equally precious and to actively resist anyone who claims that American lives (or any other nation’s peoples’ lives) are better than others.
The GTMO hunger strikers have done the one thing that they could do in the powerless state they have been violently forced into: go on hunger strike and call for the world to respond to their pleas for justice. They are depending upon us to help free them and to end this reign of terror inflicted by our government and justified by mainstream and right-wing media. As we say in the NYT’s ad:
“It is up to the people to stand up for principle and morality when their institutions and public officials refuse to do so. The fates of those who are maimed or killed by our government’s policies are with : we must listen and respond to their cry for justice. We demand the release of the cleared Guantanamo prisoners now, and an end to indefinite detention without charge for the others, before they lose their lives.”
Give generously to the campaign. Wear orange as a sign of your opposition to torture and indefinite & preventive detention. Sign up to be contacted for future events and activities. Pledge yourself as one who did not stand idly by and as someone who was not deluded into passivity in the face of depravity and injustice by false promises from false saviors.