Opinion: Guantanamo Is Who and What We Are as American: And we should be ashamed to our core / by Dud Hendrick

Originally publshed in Common Dreams on January 18, 2023

For over 20 years, every Monday afternoon, I’ve stood with like-minded concerned citizens on Rt. 15 on Deer Isle, Maine—members of our Island Peace & Justice group—standing in objection and in witness to the acts of our government. Each week, I reflect on just why I am there and each week I arrive unavoidably at the conclusion that the U.S. is the scourge of the planet, a rogue nation.

Below are a very few of those crimes that come to mind, but are so egregious as to haunt me.

The Vietnam War

As a Vietnam veteran of the nightmare visited on that country that war is never far from my conscience and, frankly, always soon to return. My reflections, invariably then take me to Agent Orange—arguably the most hideous aspect of that misbegotten war. There remain institutionalized 2 to 3 million 2nd and 3rd generation victims of A.O. unable to take care of themselves.

I think of the then-secret bombing of Laos and its legacy—thousands upon thousands of bomblets remain buried across the country waiting to take the legs or lives of the innocents wanting only to work or play or simply walk on their lands.

A world of military bases and outposts

I think of all the people, around the world, who live close by and who object to our nearly 800 bases on foreign lands. We have over three times the total number of foreign bases owned by all other countries. And I think about the environment under assault around each of those facilities.

And I think particularly of the people of the Marshall Islands, of Thule, Greenland, and Diego Garcia in the Pacific—all places from which natives were forcibly removed to make way for the U.S. military. I have visited members of each of these communities and heard their wrenching stories—each a nightmare revealing our peculiar capacity for “othering”—a term brought to my attention by the activist, Brian Willson, who lost both his legs while attempting to stop an armaments train taking weaponry to the Nicaraguan Contras. His often-voiced mantra, “We are worth more, they are worth less.” That seems evermore to be apropos of this country.

Nuclear arsenal and the warships named after War Crimes

Then of course, there’s the atomic bomb. We remain the only country to ever use atomic weapons on a civilian population. During the Vietnam War the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons on at least 13 occasions. Sounds like rogue behavior to me.

Now we have learned there will be a christening of another warship, the USS Fallujah, enshrining the battles in the Iraq town of that name. Our legacy there includes a veritable outbreak of babies born with congenital abnormalities attributed to our use of illegal chemical weapons.

Rogue state on the world stage

International treaties offer further evidence of rogue-nation behavior—there we stand above, or is it below, all others?

Of all the member states of the United Nations, 196 are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity while just four members—including the United States—have refused. Among other treaties the U.S. has refused to ratify are the Rome statute on international crimes, the treaties banning cluster bombs and landmines the convention on discrimination against women, the convention on hazardous waste, and the test ban treaty. The only nation on Earth not to ratify the convention on the rights of the child—as well as the only nation to sentence children to life imprisonment without parole? Answer: The United States. Right now, there are around 2,500 people serving life for crimes they were involved in years ago as children. What?!

War on whistleblowers

And, of course, we well know of the horrific fates of many who have worked to “put the lie” to America’s self-purported exceptionalism—Julien Assange, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, Chelsea Manning, and Daniel Hale all come to mind.

The author George Monbiot characterizes this portrait of our country as manifestation of America’s claim to exceptionalism and as an “active, proud, and furious refusal to care about the lives of others.”

All of it, all of it, smacks of rogue behavior. Our country does as it damn well pleases; yet we are fed the fiction that we are the exceptional nation. This is not simply a rant. It’s straight-line stuff: all related and all relevant.

I believe our extraordinary capacity for “othering” and notions of exceptionalism are rooted in our European ancestors believing it was their destiny to rule over indigenous lands. I believe we can draw this straight line from the genocide of the indigenous people of this continent—perhaps as many as 16 million, through the slave trade—a straight line to our contemporary ability to “other” people.

The shame and symbolism of an offshore prison

And, I would suggest that Guantanamo stands as symbolic of all of this—who and what we are. The offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay stands on foreign land to which we have no right and are not wanted. I have visited nearby Guantanamo City and have demonstrated there with the local citizens who demand closure of the base.

Islamophobia clearly explains the reality of Guantanamo prison. The poor souls there are as “other” as other can be. Every man and boy imprisoned there has been a Muslim-or as so frequently characterized, the worst of the worst. Americans are led to believe that being Muslim they are inherently terroristic and irredeemable. Dr. Maha Hilal of Muslim Counterpublics Lab writes, “Guantanamo Bay is one of the most notorious examples of how the public narrative has justified the detention, torture, and murder of Muslim men by constructing them as inherently terroristic and irredeemable.”

When we think of the forsaken souls at Guantanamo we know silence is not an option. Guantanamo persists as a symbol. There’s a level of complicity we all share. Biden says he wants to close it. It is incumbent upon every American to hold him to his stated intention.

You may learn how you can support Guantanamo survivors here.

Dud Hendrick is a member of Veterans for Peace. He has traveled widely to meet with and to speak about the victims of U.S. foreign policy. He resides on Deer Isle, Maine and can be emailed at dudhe@myfairpoint.net

Cuban Adjustment Act of US Still Privileges Cuban Migrants, Hurts Cuba / by W. T. Whitney Jr.

The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the only one of its kind in the world, continues to encourage irregular emigration, the repeal of which will be essential to achieve normal migratory relations between the two countries | Credit: Granma – en.granma.cu

“Maybe if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.” President John Kennedy was berating New York Times editor Turner Catledge. The Times and the U.S. media generally had glossed over widely-known preparations for the Bay of Pigs attack in April 1961. Catledge had removed the revealing substance of reporter Tad Szulc’s detailed news story 10 days beforehand.

Media silence has attended other Cuba -related developments over the years. Many U.S. progressives and liberals also tend to mention little about U.S-Cuban affairs, the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba being one example.

The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), which is about Cubans migrating to the United States, receives little attention, while fuss and fury grow over an unprecedented number of migrants, Cubans among them, crossing the U.S. southern border now. Officials there apprehended 1.8 million migrants between October 2021 and August 2022.

Most respondents to an NPR/Ipsos poll believe an “invasion” is taking place. Anti-migrant measures have led to political division and stalemate. Senators Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on October 5. The Biden administration’s migration policies, they claimed, represent “gross dereliction of duty … violation of your oath of office …[and] grounds for impeachment.”

Cubans, enabled by the CAA, find welcome in the United States. That 1966 law allows Cuban immigrants and their immediate families to become permanent U.S. residents. To be eligible, the Cuban migrant on arrival has to be “inspected, admitted or paroled.” He or she waits for one year, while receiving social services, and then applies for permanent residency, and gains a work permit. Other immigrants must wait five years to apply.

Why is Cuban immigration encouraged? The idea may have been that of displaying the failure of a Communist government through Cubans leaving, or of fracturing popular unity in Cuba through emigration, or of strengthening the Cuban-American voting bloc through new Cuban arrivals.

Numbers of Cuban migrants have increased recently. There were 9,822 “southwest border encounters” of border officials with Cubans in fiscal year 2020, 38,674 in FY 2021, and 174,674 Cubans in the FY ending on October 1, 2022. Between October 2021 and June border officials detained more than 1300 Cubans arriving by sea in Florida.

Cubans have been enduring shortages, high prices, and low income due mostly to the U.S. economic blockade and cut-backs on the remittances Cuban-Americans send to family members on the island. That’s one set of reasons for leaving Cuba.

Additionally, Nicaragua in November, 2021 began allowing Cubans to enter without an entry visa. Migrants can now start on their trip closer to the border than, as before, having to travel through South America.

And most of the 20,000 Cubans who would have entered the United States annually, as authorized by a 1994 bi-national agreement, have not done so. That’s because almost no processing of entry visas has taken place since 2017, when the State Department recalled most of its Embassy staff in Havana. That was in response to a mysterious neurological syndrome afflicting U.S. diplomats and staff.

Few Cubans have been able to afford travel to U.S. embassies in other countries to secure visas. Consequently, departing Cubans have resorted to irregular means. The State Department has recently begun to send diplomatic staff back to its Havana Embassy.

New rules are in place. The Obama administration in 2017 ended the government’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, in force since 1995. During that period, Cubans apprehended at sea were returned to Cuba. Those who arrived and touched U.S. soil could stay and eventually gain permanent residency status.

Cuban migrants crossing at the U.S. southern border still receive preferential treatment. Unable to show the required evidence of “lawful entry,” they benefit from creative arrangements that convert an irregular entry into a legal one.

Presently, “nearly 98 %” of Cuban migrants entering the United States stay. Border officials apply public health (anti-Covid 19) regulations known as Title 42 to all would-be immigrants. They immediately exclude half of them, but not the Cubans. Excluded migrants wait in Mexico or elsewhere for immigration judges to decide on their applications for asylum.

Some of the entering Cubans receive “humanitarian parole.” Under CAA regulations, that status qualifies as “lawful entry” and the migrant is able to wait for a year in the United States and then apply for permanent residency – and usually receive it.

Other Cubans not receiving humanitarian parole also remain in the United States by means of a “bond” requiring them to appear before immigration judges “where they can launch a defense for staying.” Most migrants in this group whose appeals are successful can count on gaining permanent residency.

A few have been unsuccessful and that group received good news on February 23, 2022. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that Cuban migrants whose appeal for permanent residence had failed now may try again, with likely success. The agency was responding to an immigration court ruling in 2021 that any release of Cuban migrants from custody at the border, whatever the circumstances, actually does represent “lawful entry” or parole, as required by the CAA.

Most of the Cubans exiting from their country are young adults and children. They benefited from the high-quality education, healthcare, and social support that was their birthright. Their energy, talents, labor, and potential commitment would no longer be contributing to Cuba’s national project of development and recovery. Their departure, one supposes, weakens the bonds of family life in Cuba and thereby makes Cuban society less cohesive.

The U.S. leadership class likely has little regret. The U.S. intention, after all, is to cause distress in Cuba leading to regime change. Moreover, U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, occupation of territory in Guantanamo, destabilizing interventions inside Cuba, and the CAA, taken together, add up to attack on Cuba’s independence and national sovereignty. The silence of the media and of political activists on these matters takes on an ominous quality, that of complicity with crimes.

The community of nations enabled the United Nations to deal with international crimes. Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council may confront “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” of one nation against another. The General Assembly in 1965 unanimously approved Resolution 2131 which states that, “No State has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any State.”

What situations would these authorizations be applied to, if not to the instances recited here of U.S. aggression against Cuba?

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

With clenched fists, they spend money on weapons as the Planet burns / by Vijay Prashad

MR OnlineDia Al-Azzawi (Iraq), Sabra and Shatila Massacre, 1982–⁠83.

Two important reports were released last month, neither getting the kind of attention they deserve. On 4 April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group III report was published, evoking a strong reaction from the United Nations’ Secretary General António Guterres. The report, he said, ‘is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world’. At COP26, the developed countries pledged to spend a modest $100 billion for the Adaptation Fund to assist developing countries adapt to climate change. Meanwhile, on 25 April, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) issued its annual report, finding that the world military spending surpassed $2 trillion in 2021, the first time it has exceeded the $2 trillion mark. The five largest spenders–the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom, and Russia–accounted for 62 percent of this amount; the United States, by itself, accounts for 40 percent of total arms expenditure.

There is an endless flow of money for weapons but less than a pittance to avert planetary disaster.

Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World (Bangladesh), The resilience of the average Bangladeshi is remarkable. As this woman waded through the flood waters in Kamalapur to get to work, there was a photographic studio ‘Dreamland Photographers’, which was open for business, 1988.

That word ‘disaster’ is not an exaggeration. UN Secretary General Guterres has warned that ‘we are on a fast track to climate disaster… It is time to stop burning our planet’. These words are based on the facts contained in the Working Group III report. It is now firmly established in the scientific record that the historical responsibility for the devastation done to our environment and our climate rests with the most powerful states, led by the United States. There is little debate about this responsibility in the distant past, a consequence of the ruthless war against nature carried out by the forces of capitalism and colonialism.

But this responsibility also extends to our present period. On 1 April, a new study was published in The Lancet Planetary Health demonstrating that from 1970 to 2017 ‘high-income nations are responsible for 74 percent of global excess material use, driven primarily by the USA (27 percent) and the EU-28 high-income countries (25 percent)’. The excess material use in the North Atlantic countries is due to use of abiotic resources (fossil fuels, metals, and non-metallic minerals). China is responsible for 15 percent of global excess material use and the rest of the Global South is responsible for only 8 percent. The excess use in these lower-income countries is driven largely using biotic resources (biomass). This distinction between abiotic and biotic resources shows us that the excess resources use from the Global South is largely renewable, whereas that of the North Atlantic states is non-renewable.

Such an intervention should have been on the front pages of the newspapers of the world, particularly in Global South, and its findings debated widely on television channels. But it was barely remarked upon. It proves decisively that the high-income countries of the North Atlantic are destroying the planet, that they need to change their ways, and that they need to pay into the various adaptation and mitigation funds to assist countries that are not creating the problem but that are suffering from its impact.

Having presented the data, the scholars who wrote this paper note that ‘high-income nations bear the overwhelming responsibility for global ecological breakdown, and therefore owe an ecological debt to the rest of the world. These nations need to take the lead in making radical reductions in their resource use to avoid further degradation, which will likely require transformative post-growth and degrowth approaches’. These are interesting thoughts: ‘radical reductions in resource use’ and then ‘post-growth and degrowth approaches’.

Simon Gende (Papua New Guinea), The U.S. Army Find Osama bin Laden Hiding in a House and Kill Him, 2013.

The North Atlantic states–led by the United States–are the largest spenders of social wealth on arms. The Pentagon–the U.S. armed forces–‘remains the single largest consumers of oil’, says a Brown University study, ‘and as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters’. To get the United States and its allies to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the UN member states had to allow greenhouse gas emissions by the military to be excluded from the national reporting on emissions.

The vulgarity of these matters can be put plainly by comparison of two money values. First, in 2019, the United Nations calculated that the annual funding gap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) amounted to $2.5 trillion. Turning over the annual $2 trillion in global military expenditure to the SDGs would go a long way toward dealing with the major assaults on human dignity: hunger, illiteracy, houselessness, lack of medical care, and so on. It is important to note here, that the $2 trillion figure from SIPRI does not include the lifetime waste of social wealth given to private arms manufacturers for weapons systems. For example, the Lockheed Martin F-35 weapons system is projected to cost nearly $2 trillion.

In 2021, the world spent over $2 trillion on war, but only invested–and this is a generous calculation–$750 billion in clean energy and energy efficiency. Total investment in energy infrastructure in 2021 was $1.9 trillion, but the bulk of that investment went to fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). So, investments in fossil fuels continue and investments in arms rise, while investments to transition to new forms of cleaner energy remain insufficient.

Aline Amaru (Tahiti), La Famille Pomare (‘The Pomare Family’), 1991.

Consider the way the United States has reacted to a deal between Solomon Islands and China, two neighbours. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that this deal sought to promote trade and humanitarian cooperation, not the militarisation of the Pacific Ocean. On that same day of Prime Minister Sogavare’s address, a high-level U.S. delegation arrived in the nation’s capital Honiara. They told Prime Minister Sogavare that if the Chinese establish any kind of ‘military installation’, the United States would ‘then have significant concerns and respond accordingly’. These were plain threats. A few days later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, ‘Island countries in the South Pacific are independent and sovereign states, not a backyard of the U.S. or Australia. Their attempt to revive the Monroe Doctrine in the South Pacific region will get no support and lead to nowhere’.

On 28 April, U.S. President Joe Biden asked the U.S. Congress to provide $33 billion for weapons systems to be sent to Ukraine. The call for these funds comes alongside incendiary statements made by the U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said that the U.S. is not trying to remove Russian forces from Ukraine but to ‘see Russia weakened’. Austin’s comment should not come as a surprise. It mirrors U.S. policy since 2018, which has been to prevent China and Russia from becoming ‘near-peer rivals’. Human rights are not the concern; the focus is preventing any challenge to U.S. hegemony. For that reason, social wealth is wasted on weapons and not used to address the dilemmas of humanity.

Solomon Islands has a long memory of the history of Australian-British colonialism and the scars of the atom bomb tests. The practice of ‘blackbirding’ abducted thousands of Solomon Islanders to work the sugarcane fields in Queensland, Australia in the 19th century, eventually leading to the Kwaio Rebellion of 1927 in Malaita. Solomon Islands has fought hard against being militarised, voting in 2016 with the world to prohibit nuclear weapons. The appetite to be the ‘backyard’ of the United States or Australia is not there. That was clear in the luminous poem ‘Peace Signs’ (1974) by Solomon Islands writer Celestine Kulagoe:

Shot Baker atomic test under Operation Crossroads, Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands), 1946.

A mushroom sprouts from
an arid pacific atoll
Disintegrates into space
Leaving only a residue of might
to which for an illusory
peace and security
man clings.

In the calm of the early morning
the third day after
love found joy
in the empty tomb
the wooden cross of disgrace
transformed into a symbol
of love service

In the heat of the afternoon lull
the UN flag flutters
hidden from sight by
national banners
under which
sit men with clenched fists
signing peace

Originally published: Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research on May 5, 2022

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

MR Online, May 6, 2022, https://mronline.org/