Revolution #54, July 23, 2006

Guantanamo, the Supreme Court, and Bush’s Juggernaut of War and Repression

Guantanamo—the U.S.-run military prison camp has become infamous around the world as a place where hundreds of prisoners have been held for years, most without charges, subject to torture and brutal interrogation. This place is a kind of 0a legal “black hole,” because Bush and those around him have insisted that no laws govern the treatment of these prisoners—except the rules they make up for themselves under what they claim are Bush’s powers as “wartime president.” This has included the military tribunals (or commissions) set up by the Bush regime to try some of these prisoners—basically kangaroo courts where a defendant can be convicted in a trial that he cannot attend with “evidence” that he cannot see and that may include statements obtained through torture.

Redefining Geneva

In another blatant example of the Bush regime’s utter disregard for truth, White House spokesman Tony Snow said a few days after the Supreme Court ruling that “the instruction manuals used by the Department of Defense already comply with the humane treatment provisions of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” (Associated Press, 7/11/06) Many people know about the infamous memo from Alberto Gonzales to George Bush in January 2002 (for those who don’t, check out “Torture Advocate to Head Justice Dept.” online at At the time the White House counsel, Gonzales argued in that memo that the global situation requires “a new kind of war” and that ignoring international law would enable the U.S. president to “preserve his flexibility.” Gonzales ended by saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Hamdan vs Rumsfeld (Salim Ahmed Hamdan is a Yemeni who was captured by the U.S. during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, brought to Guantanamo, and charged with “conspiracy to commit terrorism”) that “the military commission convened to try Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and the Geneva Conventions.” The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are the laws used by the U.S. military to hold court-martials, and the Geneva Conventions are international laws about military conflict, including treatment of prisoners.

One thing needs to be made clear right off the bat about this Supreme Court decision: This is NOT a ruling against the Bush administration’s use of Guantanamo and other prisons around the world to lock up people they have seized and accused of being “terrorists” and “enemy combatants”—and hold them indefinitely. In fact, Bush declared that the June 29 Supreme Court decision endorsed Guantanamo: “[The Supreme Court] didn’t say we couldn’t have done—couldn’t have made that decision, see? They were silent on whether or not Guantanamo—whether or not we should have used Guantanamo. In other words, they accepted the use of Guantanamo, the decision I made.”

Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, had made a similar point a few days earlier when he said that the Supreme Court didn’t say “we could not continue to hold enemy combatants indefinitely for the duration of hostilities, which was something the Supreme Court said we could do… That path is still available to us.”

At the same time, the Supreme Court ruling against Bush’s military tribunals does seem to point to some thinking within the U.S. imperialist ruling circles, including in and around the Bush administration, that they need to limit the political damage internationally from exposures about the outrages at Guantanamo. A New York Times article (7/14/06) quoted top Republican Senator John McCain remarking, in relation to Guantanamo, “America’s image in the world is suffering.” Earlier in July, three Guantanamo prisoners committed suicide—and there have been dozen of suicide attempts over the years, as well as a widespread hunger strike by the prisoners against their conditions. Prisoners released from Guantanamo have told horrible stories about abuse at the hands of the U.S. military. As NY Times columnist Bob Herbert noted (7/13/06), “Prisoners were beaten, sexually humiliated, denied essential medical treatment, deprived of sleep for days and weeks at a time, held in solitary confinement for periods exceeding a year, and tortured.”

But again, let’s be clear: All this does NOT mean that the U.S. government and military will now stop the inhumane treatment and the denial of basic rights at Guantanamo and other military prisons. The Supreme Court decision sent the issue of what kind of trials to set up for Guantanamo detainees to the Congress. There appear to be two possible ways that the Congress could go on this. One is to approve a version of the current military commissions with (in the words of Daniel Dell’Orto, a top Pentagon lawyer) “minor tweaking.” This would involve an Orwellian redefining of the Geneva Conventions. As the NY Times reported, “Administration lawyers urged Congress to pass legislation that would narrowly define the rights granted to detainees under a provision of the Geneva Conventions.” (“White House Prods Congress to Curb Detainee Rights,” NYT, 7/13/06)

Another way that Congress could go is to set up a court martial system under the UCMJ for the Guantanamo detainees—but with “tweaking” that would make them essentially like the kangaroo military tribunals that Bush had set up.

Either way, the Bush regime’s aim is to put out a few words about complying with Geneva Conventions and “respecting rights”—while proceeding ahead with Guantanamo and their whole juggernaut of war and repression.

And the Democrats? They did NOT oppose Guantanamo when Bush first set it up. They have NOT mounted opposition to it even with all the exposure of the torture and denial of rights of prisoners. And they will GO ALONG with whatever arrangement that Bush and the Congressional Republicans come up with. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has already said on national TV on July 2, “Had [the Bush administration] come to Congress a few years ago on this issue, my guess is they would have gotten most of what they wanted.” Revealed here is an essential—if “inconvenient”—truth: the Democrats are a ruling class party which views things from the angle of imperialist class interests. And in that context, they have accepted the necessity of the “war on terrorism” and everything that goes with that including torture and detention without trial.

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