Socialist Worker

The ugly face of US-style justice

Issue No. 1783

BLINDFOLDED, hooded and manacled-that's how Afghan prisoners have arrived at the US military base on Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban and Al Qaida suspects were dragged stumbling and terrified from a cargo plane. Some had been diagnosed with TB. Others were drugged. Some had their beards forcibly shaved off. They were not allowed to use toilets during the 27-hour flight from Kandahar.

George Bush claimed the values of 'civilisation' and 'justice' were behind the war in Afghanistan. The camp at Guantanamo, a shark-infested bay surrounded by razor wire and minefields, exposes exactly what he meant by that. An estimated 2,000 Afghans will be imprisoned there. There has been an outcry from human rights groups like Amnesty International over the treatment of the prisoners.

On the US military base they will be kept in open air cells, 8 feet by 6 feet, with no protection from the elements or mosquitoes. Amnesty International says the cells at Camp X-Ray fall below 'minimum standards', while the use of blindfolds and hoods amounts to cruel and degrading treatment.

Donald Anderson, Labour's chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said, 'What we have heard suggests that human rights are indeed being put in jeopardy.' In fact the prisoners are being denied any rights. The US says they are 'battlefield detainees' and 'unlawful combatants', not prisoners of war. This means the Geneva Convention does not apply to them. Guantanamo Bay is outside US territory. This means that even the minimum constitutional rights granted to criminals in the US are denied to them.

These prisoners have no right to trial by jury. They will be tried by five military officers. They can receive the death sentence and have no right of appeal. The Red Cross continues to consider the men prisoners of war. It has been denied access to Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, where it suspects widespread mistreatment.

In Afghanistan thousands of ordinary people the US claimed to be fighting for are becoming desperate for food. Tens of thousands of starving Afghans have been reduced to eating grass. Ghalame Raza watched his wife and baby daughter die of malnutrition in their mountain village.

He told reporters, 'We are waiting to die. If food does not come, if the situation does not change, we will eat grass until we die.' UN emergency aid was promised-but it has not materialised. A summit of donor countries is to be held in Tokyo next week. The Afghan government is set to ask for £31 billion over ten years. It is very unlikely to be granted. Rival Afghan warlords, whose power increased during the US war, are preventing the supplies from reaching the starving.

A World Food Programme spokeswoman explained, 'With different warlords controlling different roads, there are some areas where we just can't go.'

Land stolen from Cuba

WHY DOES the US have a base at Guantanamo Bay on land that belongs to Cuba? Cuba's prized natural harbour was seized by US Marines in 1898, during the Spanish-American War.

In 1902 US occupying forces imposed a settlement that secured US rights to intervene in Cuba and control a section of the territory, including Guantanamo. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution the US refused to hand the bay back to Cuba. Thousands of landmines were planted to protect the base. They killed Cubans trying to flee from Cuba to the US.

The base was expanded during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when a US blockade of Cuba was enforced. The US still pays $4,000 a year in rent, but Cuba's President Castro refuses to cash the cheques in protest at continued US occupation.

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Article information

Sat 19 Jan 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1783
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