US exacts revenge

Bush enforces new world order

Flushed from its victory against the counterrevolutionary Taliban regime, the United States administration is now in the mood to teach the world a few home truths about the post-September 11 new world order. What better place to start than the US military base in Guantanamo Bay - perched as it is on the soil of Cuba, the old 'communist' foe? In a display of shameless imperial triumphalism, last weekend officially sanctioned photographs were released of Camp X-Ray, where alleged Taliban and al-Qa'eda fighters of non-Afghan origin are being detained. The pictures showed images of men manacled hand and foot, kneeling before their guards, with blacked-out goggles over their eyes, ear muffs and masks over their mouths and noses. We saw the cages they were kept in, totally open to the elements. Images of abject humiliation. Sensory deprivation. Sleep deprivation. Classic torture techniques, you would think. Yet all a bit of a grim joke for the US authorities. Revenge is sweet. There were po-faced remarks about how the prisoners were receiving a "culturally appropriate diet" - like bagels, cream cheese, Froot Loops cereal and the like. One US official commented that "to be in a eight-by-eight cell in beautiful, sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not inhumane treatment". US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in his element. Guantanamo Bay was the "least bad option"; he was "relaxed" about the conditions at Camp X-Ray, which were "appropriate and humane". Much more honest was his instinctive reaction to the first round of criticisms: "I do not feel the slightest concern over their treatment." Then there was the legal jiggery-pokery about the technical status of the prisoners - with US imperialism now enjoying the freedom to make up the rules as it likes. The 150-plus detainees in Camp X-Ray have been defined by the US as "unlawful combatants" rather than prisoners of war, thus placing them outside the remit of the Geneva Convention. They will be subject to the jurisdiction of military, not civil courts - which of course requires a much lower level of evidence for conviction. In theory, they could be summarily executed by firing squad. From a formal point of view, the US's 'creative' interpretation of international law has no legitimacy. All detainees have the right to a proper determination of whether they are prisoners of war under article five of the 1949 convention. This fact has to be established by what is called "an appropriate tribunal". This has clearly not happened, so therefore the prisoners should be treated as POWs. But legal niceties do not count for much in this new world order. In all the fuss about Camp X-Ray, we should not forget that the way 'normal' prisoners are treated in 'normal' US prisons is not that much better. Brutal and degrading treatment is routine - institutionalised even. Then there is the psychological torture of death row, where prisoners can languish for years, decades, never knowing whether they will eventually be legally slaughtered. The almost casual acceptance by wide swathes of the US population of torture as just another method of securing your ends is deeply disturbing. Of course, US imperialism has never been shy of deploying 'unorthodox' interrogation techniques - the most gruesome horrors were routinely inflicted, for example, on liberation fighters in Vietnam. However, this aspect of American rule was hidden away and officially denied. Now torture is almost publicly proclaimed. In the aftermath of September 11 the FBI and various US politicians were openly discussing, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, why it is perfectly valid (under the 'right' circumstances of course) to torture suspects. There was not exactly a storm of protest from the avowedly liberal press. In many respects, the sudden enthusiasm for torture is a natural extension of George Bush's belligerent message delivered right at the beginning of the 'war against terrorism' - you are either with us or against us. Screw the middle ground. Bush was out to intimidate the 'international community' and any (potential) internal dissent. Who wants to be branded a 'terrorist' or 'terrorist sympathiser'? Given the current balance of world forces, this has up to now proved to be an easy and effective strategy for US imperialism. Raul Castro, the second in command in Cuba after his brother Fidel, did not waste much time in promising that if any Camp X-Ray detainees escaped into 'socialist' Cuba they would immediately be handed back to the US authorities. Of course, there is zero chance of this - as Castro well knows. He was signalling to the US with these remarks that Cuba is not going to stand in the way of the 'war against terrorism'. So far, Bush has not had to face much opposition. The Red Cross and Amnesty International have both criticised aspects of US policy towards the Guantanamo prisoners. True, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has castigated the US administration for having a "highly cynical Hobbesian view of the world". But hardly militant resistance. Not unsurprisingly, this brazen display of US arrogance has upset British liberal sensibilities and also a section of conservative opinion - which thinks that American behaviour has been 'bad form', not what you would expect from a fully paid-up member of the 'civilised world'. Hence the outrage of the Daily Mail and the Sunday Mail. Loud grumbles from The Times. Somewhat more predictably, an editorial in The Independent condemned "the folly" of US action (January 21), while The Guardian described Camp X-Ray as a "gratuitous indignity" (January 20). Such qualms are not for everyone. Rightwing commentator Bruce Anderson thinks that "the treatment of the prisoners on Guantanamo is based on tough-minded, unillusioned realism". He characterises the respective attitudes of the UK and US governments as the difference "between a post-imperial power which has lost its self-confidence and approaches every foreign policy dispute with a pre-emptive cringe - and an imperial power ready to exert itself whenever it is necessary and justified in doing so. We should give thanks that our security is in American hands" (The Independent January 21). The "post-imperial" unease which Anderson so despises is evident amongst some sections of the British government. One unnamed senior Labour minister has been widely reported in the mainstream press as describing the US treatment of the prisoners as "monstrous". This sentiment must reflect a relatively widespread view. Yes, the Camp X-ray scandal has put a little dent in Blair's much affected Gladstonian image - the noble knight who goes abroad to bring peace and harmony. But ultimately Blair will not allow much space to be opened up between him and the US administration - hence the comment this week that he has "no substantial complaints" about the conditions in Guantanamo. Indeed the three British prisoners were also reported - somewhat incredibly - as having "no complaints" about their treatment. The UK is hardly in a position to lecture the US. A scandal broke at the end of last week - on the front page of The Observer - about the harsh conditions at Belmarsh prison in southeast London. 'Our' own mini-Guantanamo Bay. Seven foreign nationals, suspected islamic terrorists, have been held in Belmarsh since last month under the new anti-terrorism act. They were initially denied access to lawyers or their families, and were being locked up for 22 hours a day, effectively denied daylight. Inhuman conditions. In the words of Gareth Peirce, who represents several of the detainees, "these men have been buried alive in concrete coffins". Those barbaric Americans, eh? Communists denounce Camp X-Ray and the 'war against terrorism' that spawned it. It is in our interests to do so. The state could one day put us in such a camp "¦ or at least in a Belmarsh. George Bush has already passed the USA Patriot Act, which gives the state sweeping powers of arbitrary arrest and detention of non-nationals suspected of being involved in terrorism. The UK government of course quickly adopted David Blunkett's Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act ('UK Patriot Act'), which permits the indefinite detention without trial - ie, a form of internment - of non-Britons, whom he "reasonably" believes are terrorists, have "links" with terrorism or are "a risk" to national security. The new sweeping definition of terrorism, marking a considerable attack on our democratic rights, incorporates "the use or threat of action" designed to influence the government or to advance a "political, religious or ideological" cause. 'Terrorist' actions can include causing "serious damage to property". Almost any protest or expression of dissent can get you branded a 'terrorist'. Fancy a spot of sensory deprivation? The US ruling class feels invincible. Smugly they believe that the images of Camp X-Ray beamed around the world will help secure its hegemonic position - internally and externally. The gloating Donald Rumsfeld thinks nothing can puncture American power or prestige: there can only be good publicity. Prove him wrong. In America leading civil rights lawyers and activists filed a petition on Tuesday requiring the US government to bring the detainees at Guantanamo Bay before a civil court and hence define the charges against them. The petition claims that the detainees are being held in violation of the US constitution and the Geneva Convention - and the hearing will be a test case on whether they were removed from Afghanistan legally or not. Naturally, a welcome move. However, we need to go way beyond legalistic, and essentially defensive, forms of opposition. In the UK we need to build a political movement - through the Socialist Alliance - that can challenge Blair and his part in the 'war against terrorism'. Eddie Ford