“The difference between us and the enemy should be in how we treat the enemy.”
– Barack Obama
“It gives us a very, very bad name, not just internationally. I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how we can detain someone, particularly someone who might be an American citizen – even if they were caught somewhere abroad, acting against American interests – and hold them without ever giving them an opportunity to appear before a judge.”
– James A. Baker III, former US Secretary of State under George H.W.Bush
Shackles, used in the Military Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
When Christopher Columbus landed there in 1494, he called it Puerto Grande, after sizing it up as a potentially excellent blue water port where Spanish man-o-wars could stop over for R&Rs, on their way to the ‘New World’. It would also serve as a disembarking port for African slaves being driven to toil in the Cuban sugar plantations.
The bay around the land was called Guantánamo by the original inhabitants – the Tainos. The Tainos of course do not exist anymore. Long before the Serbs tried it out on the Bosnian Muslims, the Spaniards had developed ethnic cleansing into a fine art.
In those days if you were a white man, you could simply walk into a territory and it became yours. The native Tainos, like the Australian aborigines, had never seen aggression and weren’t prepared for it in any significant way. The Spaniards annexed Cuba and ruled with a brutal fist for the next 500 years, during which time there was no middle class – there were either Spaniards or there were slaves.
Cuba remained a colony of Spain until they got their asses walloped by the Americans in the Spanish-American War and ceded control of not only Cuba, but also Puerto Rico, Guam and The Phillipines. The ceasefire agreement required the US to pay Spain a sum of money for the cessation – $20 million ($160 billion in 2016 dollars – 0.8% of the US’s current GDP of $ 19.5 Trillion). Chump change. The US earns that in roughly less than two hours, even on a bad day.
A tidy fire sale indeed. If the US had to buy Cuba today, the White House wouldn’t even need congressional approval. The morning that the US offered to settle for Cuba with the Spanish, Theodore Roosevelt was munching on fresh corn bread for breakfast and telling his Secretary of State, John Hay, “Give the chicos twennie mill, be soft spoken but have the iron fist ready.” The ‘chicos’ settled of course.
When the Cubans gained formal independence from the U.S. in 1902, they understood that it came with a caveat and that caveat got enshrined in their constitution, which by the way the Americans ‘helped’ the newly independent Cubans to write. Under the new constitution, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to ‘supervise’ its economy and its foreign relations.
In English that meant virtually governing Cuba, which the US of course did, moving swiftly, occupying Cuba and installing a corrupt butthead dictator by the name of Charles Edward Magoon, who unfortunately couldn’t hold the thing together.
But then, guess what – the Americans just love shaky dictators who need constant intervention. The U.S. continued meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs until in 1924, when they got another schmuck installed who turned out to be the mother of all corrupt dictators : an organized crime-friendly SOB named Gerardo Machado. From then on Cuba saw a succession of long chain of shitheads – Franchi, Quesada, Grau, Möller, Gamio, Morera, Campa, Mendieta, Gomez, Brú and finally the guy whose ass Castro kicked out of Cuba in 1959, the most corrupt of them all – Fulgencio Batista.
There is a scene from Godfather II, where Fulgencio Batista receives a solid gold telephone from the rep of the ‘United Telephone and Telegraph Company’ of the US and then he proudly passes it around the table that is occupied by the heads of some of the largest American businesses as well as organized crime syndicates.
The golden telephone really happened. An iconic symbol of greed and power, it is on display at the Museo de la Revolución, in Havana. The only difference from the movie phone company is the name – the real phone company’s name was International Telephone and Telegraph, the archetypal American business conglomerate of the mid-20th century.
IT&T did well for itself in Cuba, with the blessings of its many dictators, brutally suppressing any competition and at one point, even operating its own private armed militia to terrorize and even kill any Cuban who stood up against it’s expansion. Now greatly diminished, overtaken by technology, the company is still in business, operating as simply – ITT.
ITT has never been held accountable for its deeds in Cuba.
Remember I was mentioning how the US ‘offered’ to run Cuba’s own internal affairs back in the 1920s? Shortly after the Cuban constitution virtually enshrined the US meddling, capitalism took over – the US leased out the economic intervention portfolio to an entity that has, through many historic instances of close cooperation, become exactly like another branch of government – American Organized Crime. Oh yes, America’s sixth and by far the most profitable Estate is it’s organized crime industry. Wall Street depends on it for its survival even today.
The mob began building resorts and casinos and soon created a walled-in playground for the American elite, right in the middle of the squalor of Cuba – one of the world’s poorest nations.
The party would have gone on unchecked, had the son of a migrant Spanish sugar plantation owner, Fidel Castro, not kicked mafia butt straight out of Cuba in 1959. I am not an unabashed fan of Fidel Castro but I still admire the guy. Who won’t look with awe at a someone who survived 612 officially declared CIA assassination attempts?
At the far south-eastern corner of the Cuban landmass, stands a 45-acre US Naval base, built upon Christopher Columbus’s original discovery of the sterling deep water port – Guantánamo Bay. Immediately after the Americans were done writing the constitution for the newly independent Cuba, back in 1902, they recognized the value of holding onto this port facility.
The land-grab had to be done with finesse, it had to seem fair and above board to the world. The white sahibs ‘leased’ the 45-acre port and surrounding land from Cuba in an agreement that was as one-sided as the one they had helped the Brits sign with that stupid wimp, the first Shah of Iran, for his oil. (I’m talking about Wimp-1. Wimp-2 was the son who got his ass kicked out of Iran in 1979).
The terms under which the Guantánamo Bay facilities were leased to the US – $4000/year – haven’t changed and after Fidel Castro came to power, Cuba has never cashed any of the annual American lease cheques – in protest, demanding instead that they be given back the land that was usurped through perfidy, from a people who at the time knew no better.
Last week, President Obama stood on the pristine lawns of the White House and pronounced, “For many years it has been clear that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it.”
“Let us do what is right for America,” Obama exhorted, now on a roll, “I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. And if as a nation we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it? We must close down Guantanmo. The facility provides a recruiting and propaganda tool for terrorist groups such as ISIS and also hurts America’s relationships with our allies.”
Coming from any other American President, those words might have sounded extremely hollow, but I am certain that personally Obama wants to do the right thing. After all, it is not he who created the Detention Center.
But regrettably, it does seem a bit late to act upon the issue now. Not prioritizing the shut down of Guantanamo earlier in his first term, when he virtually owned both houses of Congress and when there was no legislation against the shut-down, will remain Obama’s biggest failure as a President.
Reuters correspondent, David Rohde, was the first outside eyewitness to the aftermath of the Srebrenica massacre in August 1995. From the thick of the genocide, he continued reporting, revealing the gruesome massacre of Bosnian Muslims by the forces of Slobodan Milošević’s Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), until he was captured and detained in side a tiny cell with five other inmates for over 23 hours a day. His intrepid reporting won him the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
Then, in November 2008, while in Afghanistan doing research for a book, Rohde and two Afghan associates were kidnapped by members of the Taliban. After being held captive for seven months, Rohde and one of his associates escaped and made their way to safety.
To state that David Rohde is eminently eligible to speak about unlawful captivity will not be an overstatement.
Rohde recounts an interesting exchange while he was in Taliban captivity. One day, one of the younger Taliban militants guarding him, overwhelmed by the constant fear of being targeted by the next drone strike, began slapping him around and abusing him, when a more senior and aged guy who seemed like a group leader quietly told the young militant to desist.
Rohde’s Afghan associate later translated the old man’s words for him, which generally meant….’why do you harass that man in this way? That is not who we are. Remember, we treat even prisoners as guests. That is our culture. That is why we are different from them.’
Even that mother of all ass–les, US Army sargent Bowe Berghdahl, who deserted his Afghan guard post in 2009 and walked off into the night, only to be taken prisoner by the Taliban and held captive for five years, confirms that his captors treated him generally with respect, even keeping him hidden in the homes of Taliban combatants, among their women and children. Berghdahl says that he was physically harmed (beaten) only when he tried to escape a few times. Otherwise, he lived as they lived and ate as they ate. You will find an absorbing account of his ordeal in a developing series aired by Serial, a podcast hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig.
The US Military Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay still exists, thumbing its nose at just about every tenet of international law – criminal, civilian or military, or any other statute known to mankind, a pitiless compound where humans are herded around like pigs.
Perhaps this is the real Bay of Pigs.