Sunday, February 19, 2006


Guantanamo Bay is in the news – and not for any good reason. Most of the world is so used to hearing the name Guantanamo that they don't ever stop to wonder how the United States happens to have a military base on the island of Cuba; the Cuba that is still controlled by the communists led by Fidel Castro. That old cigar-chomper Fidel is not known for his good will towards Uncle Sam.

The United States Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – to give it its full title is an anachronistic remnant of the drive by the U.S. to obtain colonies and become a world power before WWI. It was probably inevitable that as the Spanish colonial empire in the new world came to an end, the U.S. would attempt to influence the outcome of any attempt by Cuban nationalists to hasten the departure of the Spanish. Egged on by some of the most unscrupulous newspaper tycoons in history, William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal, and Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, President McKinley shamelessly had Congress declare war on Spain. Hearst had sent his artist and reporter, Frederic Remington, to Havana with instructions to report on and draw atrocities committed by the evil Spanish. Receiving his report that there was no war and no atrocities, Hurst famously replied, “You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.” After some fine, new American warships had butchered the Spanish Pacific fleet at Manila, and a crushing victory at Santiago Bay in the Caribbean, it only remained for Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to fashion a charge up San Juan hill to settle the war on land. At Guantanamo, The first Marines to be killed were Privates William Dumphy and James McColgan of D Company. Thus the history of the U.S. Involvement at Guantanamo Bay began.

Having embarrassed Spain and shamelessly stolen the island of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and a few other bits of real estate, the U.S. Government reached an agreement with a puppet Cuban government to lease Guantanamo for a peppercorn rent and has never seen fit to abandon it.

A 1934 treaty reaffirming the lease granted Cuba and her trading partners free access through the bay, modified the lease payment from $2,000 in gold coins per year, to the 1934 equivalent value of $4,085 U.S. Treasury dollars, and added a requirement that termination of the lease requires the consent of both the U.S. and Cuba governments, or the abandonment of the base property by the U.S. Since the 1950's the Cubans have refused to cash the cheques that Uncle Sam regularly sends.

  • It is interesting, perhaps to contrast this with the British hand-over of Hong Kong to the Chinese. Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking, at which point in time the island itself became a Crown Colony. Later Britain leased the New Territories from China for 99 years. So, Britain was under no obligation to return Hong Kong Island to China at all. Not that it really mattered – Britain had long since lost its appetite for colonies. The U.S. has suffered no such loss of appetite and it seems unlikely in the extreme that it will ever be returned. The result is a strange limbo where Guantanamo is neither a colony nor U.S. territory. It is simply a part of a foreign county (Cuba) that is leased to the American government. This, as it happens, suits the United States very well; for clearly such protection as the Constitution affords individuals is not applicable in a foreign country.

This has not stopped some very senior figures calling for the detention facility to be closed. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, endorsed a report calling for closure last night and called on the US to close the detention centre “as soon as possible”. But the White House remained defiant. “These are dangerous terrorists that we’re talking about,” Scott McClellan, President Bush’s spokesman, insisted. He said that “nothing’s changed” in the US view that the facility is a legitimate and necessary tool to combat terrorism, and called the report a “rehash” of old allegations. And, because Guantanamo is not US territory Bush can get away with this. The message is clear – we are going to do anything and everything we want to prevent another attack on the US. Most Americans probably agree with him.

From The Times

US churches denounce Iraq war

A coalition of American churches sharply denounced the United States-led war in Iraq, accusing Washington of "raining down terror". The churches apologised to other nations for "the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown". The statement, issued at the largest gathering of Christian churches in nearly a decade, also warned that the US was pushing the world toward environmental catastrophe with a "culture of consumption" and its refusal to back international accords seeking to battle global warming.

The US is in danger of alienating the support of the international community for no good reason. If there are any terrorists at Guantanamo then they should be brought to justice. If there are detainees who have intelligence value then anything of use should have already been discovered. Not much is to be gained now in exposing the US to continued criticism from the UN, friendly governments and international public opinion.

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