Guan­tanamo re­mains po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive en­clave

Long be­fore base used as de­ten­tion cen­tre, it was source of con­tention be­tween Cuba, U.S.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Henry Sre­brnik Henry Sre­brnik is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Just like is­lands, en­claves can be use­ful for coun­tries wish­ing to house un­de­sir­ables away from their own shores.

Think of the no­to­ri­ous Devil’s Is­land, off the coast of French Guiana, which served as a pe­nal colony, or Al­ca­traz, in San Fran­cisco Bay, the site for a prison.

The most fa­mous site used for that pur­pose to­day is the Amer­i­can naval base at Guan­tanamo Bay, an en­clave lo­cated on 120 square kilo­me­tres at the south­east­ern edge of Cuba.

The prison made news in Canada on July 4 when it was dis­closed that Omar Khadr, who had been im­pris­oned there for 10 years af­ter be­ing found guilty in the death of an Amer­i­can sol­dier dur­ing a fire­fight in Afghanistan in 2002, re­ceived $10.5 mil­lion from Ot­tawa for the vi­o­la­tion of his Char­ter rights by Cana­dian of­fi­cials.

Mean­while, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion on June 16 to re­voke much of his pre­de­ces­sor’s poli­cies re­lax­ing the re­stric­tive Amer­i­can reg­u­la­tions to­wards the is­land has also drawn at­ten­tion to Guan­tanamo in the United States.

Long be­fore the base be­gan to be used as a de­ten­tion cen­tre for ter­ror­ists, it has been a source of con­tention be­tween Cuba and the U.S.

Un­til 1898, Cuba had be­longed to Spain; as the Span­ish em­pire di­min­ished, Cubans fought for their in­de­pen­dence. The U.S. joined in to help its neigh­bour and, when the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War ended Spain gave the U.S. con­trol of Cuba.

Three years later, Cuba be­came an in­de­pen­dent na­tion, but with a catch. The new Cuban gov­ern­ment was re­quired to lease or sell cer­tain ter­ri­tory to the United States.

By a treaty known as the Platt Amend­ment, signed in 1903 and reaf­firmed in 1934, Cuba granted the U.S. “com­plete ju­ris­dic­tion and con­trol” over Guan­tanamo through a per­pet­ual lease that can be voided only by mu­tual agree­ment.

When Fidel Cas­tro came to power in Cuba in 1959, he threat­ened to uni­lat­er­ally ab­ro­gate the treaty, and made it clear he con­sid­ered the base un­law­fully oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. But he feared that Wash­ing­ton would at­tack and de­pose him if he fol­lowed through.

Havana would con­tinue to re­gard the pres­ence of an Amer­i­can base on its ter­ri­tory as il­le­git­i­mate and made that clear — in 1964, for ex­am­ple, Cas­tro cut off the wa­ter sup­ply and power grid to the base, forc­ing the U.S. Navy to build its own wa­ter and power plants.

The is­sues sur­round­ing the base took on a whole new level of in­ten­sity fol­low­ing the at­tacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton on Sept. 11, 2001.

The de­ci­sion to ship al-Qaeda de­tainees to Guan­tanamo was reached in 2002, in or­der to cir­cum­vent ques­tions about their sta­tus, which would have come up had they been in­car­cer­ated on U.S. soil.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion de­tained al­most 800 “en­emy com­bat­ants” in a ter­ri­tory that was un­der Amer­i­can con­trol but os­ten­si­bly be­yond the reach of con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions. The le­gal sta­tus of th­ese pris­on­ers, mostly held in the Camp Delta de­tain­ment fa­cil­ity, was a source of in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion.

Even with the thaw in re­la­tions with Cuba af­ter 2014, in­clud­ing the restora­tion of diplo­matic re­la­tions and Obama’s visit last year, the base has re­mained in Amer­i­can hands.

Of the 242 cap­tives in Guan­tanamo when Obama took of­fice, it still houses 41 pris­on­ers.

On Jan. 22, 2009, two days af­ter he be­came pres­i­dent, Barack Obama is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der de­signed to “promptly close de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties at Guan­tanamo,” to take place no less than a year from that date. But it never hap­pened.

It cer­tainly won’t un­der Trump.

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