I had planned to announce today that I would pay the $80 million that President Obama needs to relocate the remaining 245 prisoners held at Guantánamo. My plan was to borrow the money from a TARP bank, take over the facility and develop a golf course, casino, hotels and some condos. This all fell through when I found out that the US doesn’t actually own Gitmo and is just renting. Imagine my disappointment.
How could it be, you ask? Just four years ago, we paid Halliburton a billion dollars to build the “detention center” on land we don’t even own? Wait a minute, we paid a billion dollars for that? Stop. Go back. Why does Obama need $80 million for relocation? That’s $326,530 a prisoner. For that, couldn’t he check them in to the Ritz for the next 4 years and forget about them? Yes, but stop interrupting.
I wish Castro were my landlord, or it’s about clean coal technology. Since 1934, the US has “rented” the 46.8 square miles around Guantánamo Bay for the purpose of coaling1 and naval stations with annual payments of $2,000 in gold (currently, $4,085 per month in check) – from 18982 until 1934, we didn’t pay anything. Since the Cuban Revolution (1959), all but one (an accident of the revolution) of the checks have gone un-cashed and are reportedly stuffed in Castro’s desk. Cynically, we continue to make the checks out to the “Treasurer General of the Republic” since we still don’t recognize the new (60 years) government.
For 60 or 80 centuries, Cuba was inhabited by the Taíno and Ciboney peoples. They were peaceful farmers and hunter-gatherers. In 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed, it all went to hell and, except for a brief period after WWII, has pretty much been there ever since. The Spanish brought with them infectious diseases and Christianity. Those indigenous people who didn’t die from one, died from the other. For 400 years, the Spanish colonized Cuba and developed a plantation economy on the backs of African-descended slaves.
When the desperately poor finally rose up and looked like they were going to overthrow the Spanish, we stepped in. For the next 110 years, we have cruelly dominated this poor island country. By US law, we are required to leave “control of the island to its people.” Yet, we have invaded. Propped up dictators. Funded insurrection. We have forced unfair trade and have decimated Cuba economically by military blockhead and embargoes. We’ve dumped toxic waste and broadcast toxic radio. In spite of this, Cuba is a diverse country with a stable government and no lobbyists. It has free elections, universal healthcare, a strong education system, freedom of religion, low crime, wonderful food and great baseball players. All things that we aspire to.
There is that nagging “socialist” thing. According to Wikipedia, in 2006, Cuba’s economy was 78% public-sector employment and 22% private sector (compared to 91.8% to 8.2% in 1981). Ours, on the other hand, is about just about opposite those figures, but moving the other direction.
It is time to give notice on our lease. Of course, we’d have to recognize their “new” government.
So what to do about Gitmo? Of the 775 detainees who have been our guests, only three3 have been convicted; 420 were released without charge by the Bush administration; 69 are now hosted by other countries; 41 are either in US prisons or have been misplaced; and 245 remain. Of these, we want to release about 185 when we can find a country to take them, which requires the bribe that Congress has yet to fund. That leaves us with what to do with the remaining 60 or so.
These 60 men so terrify our governors, representatives and senators that they are afraid to run for re-election if the prisoners are on our soil in their states. Closing of Gitmo is the issue that our alpha-male ex-veep came out of hiding to describe as “unwise in the extreme” and “recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” This is the issue President Obama says is “the toughest issue we will face.”
Doesn’t sound so tough to me. These worst of the worst are no match for the vicious criminals in our prisons – certainly, not in the showers. They are friendless, penniless and powerless. Many have been tortured and are incapacitated. Most don’t even speak English (except those who take our English language courses and enjoy some of the 7,500 books in the Gitmo library). These “masterminds” aren’t. They have long since been replaced by new recruits – many of which were likely recruited because of our internment policies and torture. Gitmo prisoners aren’t coming back here. Chances are, they aren’t going to be welcomed anywhere. No matter what we do, there are risks. But the risk to our system is greater if we don’t act.
We are a nation of laws. It is time to trust them. Trust the courts. Charge them or let them go. Take them back to where we found them (or, release them in Texas – they wouldn’t last a week).
1 Our Navy ships used to burn a lot of coal – almost a thousand tons per day per battleship, which explains why we might want Guantánamo, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. We started switching to oil in 1910.
2 Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain! Sure. The state that gave us the two senate votes to pass Obama’s stimulus. No, the other Maine. The USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor (1898). Even though the explosion that caused the Maine’s sinking was in dispute, President Bush at the time, played by William McKinley, cited it as a reason to start a war with Spain and take over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. While the Republicans were waiting for a reason to pick a fight, disappointingly, Spain had already lost Mexico, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Santo Dominto, Columbia, etc.
After the Spanish-American war, the Cuban-American Treaty gave us Guantánamo Bay and the surrounding land in perpetuity for the purpose of coaling and naval stations in exchange for our recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba, their prohibition from negotiating treaties with country but us, and our agreement to preferential sugar tariffs, which allowed the US to dominate the government and the economy so long as we both shall live. This treaty was a requirement of the Platt Amendment to the Army appropriations bill (1899). While the treaty was rejected by the Cuban assembly, it was accepted by the government du jour (del día) and integrated into the Cuban constitution. One note: we signed the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) which voids treaties obtained by force, but we ignore it in this case.
3 The Austrailian kid, who after torture, pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence; the former chauffeur who was released for time served; and a man who received a life sentence for making a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole.