Guantánamo: What the World Should Know

America’s Guantánamo Gulag

By Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray, Guantánamo: What the World Should Know (White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishers, 2004).

On the Caribbean island of Cuba stands a foreboding outpost of American imperial  power—Guantánamo Naval  Base.  There, hundreds of men, drawn from all over the world, are entombed in what one British court has called a “legal black hole.”

Michael Ratner is a lawyer who has argued in the U.S.Supreme Court on behalf of several people encaged there. In this book, in which he is interviewed by political journalist Ellen Ray, he argues that Guantánamo is an American interrogation camp, similar to those erected by the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II, and outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.1 He describes Guantánamo as a place designed to be beyond the law:

For nearly eight hundred years, since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, our laws have insisted that every single human being is entitled to some kind of judicial process before he or she can be thrown in jail. The United States is trying to overturn one of the most fundamental principles of Anglo-American jurisprudence and international law. This is a principle that is found in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We have gone back to a pre-Magna Carta medieval system, not a system of laws, but of executive fiat, where the king—or in this case the president—simply decides, on any particular days, I’m going to throw you into some prison. You are not going to have access to a lawyer or anybody else, or even know if there are any charges against you, or if you will ever be released from this prison. Guantánamo has become our Devil’s Island, our Château d’If from The Count of Monte Cristo. (6)

Some folks (among them U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) view treaties like the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the like, as legal niceties, or things to be ignored at a whim, and, if regarded at all, as inferior global pacts that are of little significance. In fact, under the U.S. Constitution (you know, the document that soldiers and those who command them—generals and presidents—are sworn to “protect and defend”), such international pacts as these become part of U.S. law, under Article VI, Clause 2, known as the Supremacy Clause:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. (Perhaps the White House is using another text.)

If people are truly shocked by what was revealed at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, one need only look at Guantánamo for its inspiration. For the leadership of Abu Ghraib was sent there from Guantánamo with a specific, sinister mission: to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib, that is, to treat the people detained there with the same rigor and repression as visited upon those at Guantánamo.

So, the torture of people, the nakedness of people, the brutal beatings of people, the humiliation of people—all of these things and more were done to Muslims and Arab nationals at Guantánamo.

But, according to Ratner, there was another, insidious method to their brutal madness. Those detained at Guantánamo were captured for the purpose of turning them, of flipping them, of using state terror to transform these people into snitches to be seeded back into Muslim communities and countries, to serve as the eyes and ears of U.S. intelligence agencies. Ratner says:

This is exactly what the British did with the IRA prisoners. Just as is being done in Guantánamo, they refused to give out the names of detainees for “security reasons” and kept them in detention for long periods of time. During that period, many of them were turned into undercover agents for British intelligence.

What is going on in Guantánamo is not just about interrogation, not just about keeping allegedly dangerous people off the battlefield, but about recruiting Muslim informants to go around the Islamic world, to go back to their countries of origin and get information back to the United States, essentially to spy for the United States. (48)

Americans are taking innocent men, putting them in cages, treating  them like beasts, for years, knowingly, for the purpose of using them against their home communities and countries. Thus, the U.S. is utilizing torture, vile conditions of confinement, and threats of further violence, to bend men’s minds, to turn them into spies.  According to Ratner, this tactic, even if it seems at first blush to be legitimate (given the alleged worth of such data to “combat terrorism”), both violates the law and may prove profoundly counterproductive:

….[I]t is not legitimate or lawful to recruit such agents by holding them in isolation for years, with no charges, under intense physical and mental deprivation, to turn them in desperation into your robots. It is obviously completely illegal.

The second problem is that their kinds of infiltration operations  can  backfire.  Your agents can end up being  your  well-trained enemies.  (48)

Journalist Ellen Ray claims to have seen reports indicating that CIA, FBI, and British intelligence teams have been working side-by-side with Guantánamo interrogators, to sniff out potential recruits for turning into Islamic snitches.

This is the face of American “democracy” that will be reflected in the eyes of hundreds, and then thousands, and eventually perhaps millions of Muslims in times to come.

This is the reason that the so-called “War on Terror” is a fraud; it is a war, to be sure, but a war against reason. It is a mad war, designed by madmen, based on false evidence, and one which threatens to, once again, splash back against the nation that spawned it. We have seen blowback before. It is the grim and bitter lesson that should have prevailed in the gritty smoke of Sept. 11. Young men, some of them trained as proxies by the CIA, and paid by the Saudis to vanquish the then “evil empire” of the Soviets’ client-state in Afghanistan, succeeded in driving Russians from their lands, and then, “flush with victory,” turned their sights upon those who had trained them. Barefoot and bearded, bearing SAMS (surface-to-air missiles) and Qu’rans, they had driven one superpower to its knees; why not another?

Guantánamo has indeed become, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision,2 what British judges in the Abassi case call a “legal black hole.”  And like black holes, it threatens to swallow everything around it.

Reviewed by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Author of We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party (2004)


1. A lengthy Appendix includes, among a number of other important documents, the texts of the relevant Conventions and also of the White House legal memorandum arguing that they do not apply.

2. Yaser Esam HAMDI v. RUMSFELD. et al., 2004 WL 1431951 (U.S. 2004, dec’d 6/28/04, per 0’Connor, J.). While corporate news reports presented stories praising the Supreme Court decision as a repudiation of the Bush administration (by requiring the U.S. to grant court access to many of the detainees), the Justice Dept. did not lose all. The majority upheld the government’s practice of designating someone an “enemy combatant,” even an American citizen, and holding such a person in captivity. Indeed, the Hamdi court held:

“There is no bar to this Nation’s holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant. In Quirin, one of the detainees, Haupt, alleged that he was a naturalized United States citizen. >317 U.S., at 20, 63 S.Ct. 2. We held that “[clitizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy governments, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents within the meaning of… the law of war.” >Id., at 37-38, 63 S.Ct. 2.  While Haupt was tried for violations of the law of war, nothing in Quirin suggests that his citizenship would have precluded his mere detention for the duration of the relevant hostilities.” (Hamdi,  p. 8)

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