When President Obama gave his speech on national security issues on May 23 at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C, one of the topics he focused on was closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The interruption of the speech by Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of CODEPINK, brought greater public attention to the issue.
The president recounted a number of problems he faces in order to do so, such as the need for Congressional approval to move the detainees before he could shutter the facility. "As president, I have tried to close Gitmo. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from Gitmo with Congress' support. When I ran for president the first time, John McCain supported closing Gitmo. This was a bipartisan issue."
The president went on to make a vague promise to remove the remaining detainees and close the prison.
Guantanamo will only be closed if there continues to be a broad-based movement that consistently pressures the government to close the prison. This effort is being augmented by the struggle - most notably through their hunger strike - by the detainees to seek justice.
When the detention center is closed it will be a most important step in the worldwide effort to achieve universal human rights. But this closure should be only a first step in a longterm strategy.
What must be done is for the United States to return Guantanamo Bay, with all of its military facilities dismantled, to Cuba, the country from which U.S. imperialists stole it in 1898.
There is no reason for the U.S. to maintain control over territory that belongs to another sovereign nation. Our presence in Guantanamo Bay harks back to the days of "gunboat diplomacy" and running roughshod over the darker-skinned peoples of Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
After the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 Cuba attained independence from Spain and nominal control over its affairs.
Congress passed the Platt Amendment in 1901 which affirmed the "right" to interfere in Cuba's affairs. One of the pillars of the Amendment was the maintenance of the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay. Today it remains the oldest U.S. military installation in a foreign country.
In 1934 the United States and Cuba signed a Treaty of Relations which granted the U.S, government a "perpetual" lease over the area. Over time, officials have claimed that the base ensured the security of the Caribbean basin, served as a calling station for ships, and protected the sea lanes to and from the Panama Canal.
With the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 the new government has repeatedly demanded that the United States return Guantanamo Bay, which all presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have refused to do.
Some 54 years have passed since Fidel Castro led the Cuban people to victory. The best way to move beyond the aims of the Cold Warriors is for the United States to make a complete revision of its policies toward Cuba.
This can be done in three major steps: 1) Re-establish full diplomatic relations; 2) the U.S. government end the economic blockade and all travel restrictions; and 3) the United States return Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners.
It was wrong to steal Guantanamo Bay in 1898; it is wrong today. It is time to give Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba.