It begins with the Haitians.
HIV/AIDS infected Haitians in fact.
It begins with George Bush, the senior.
It begins in 1991.
Jean-Bertrande Aristide has been overthrown – a democratically elected President evicted by a military junta which later had to use excessive force to contain the protests of the citizens of the country.
Nearly 250,000 refugees fled the country in the face of the 1991 coup and a systematic campaign of executions and torture against Aristide partisans.
These ‘boat people‘ as George Bush’s administration labelled where, in clear violation of international law, forcibly repatriated despite clear evidence of threat to their lives. The administration insisted on calling them ‘economic refugees‘ and forcibly turning them away from the shores of the USA.
In 1992 George Bush, sitting comfortably in his house at Kennebunkport, issued Executive Order 12,807, ordering the Coast G to return all boats and people to the country from which it came.
This order was onlly the latest in acts of indifference and cruelty that came years after a policy of forced repatriation that had already been in place – despite 4 years of the horror of the Duvaliar regime, and another 6 of a bloody military junta ensconsed in the palace at Port Au Prince.
The United States Supreme Court supported the actions of the government and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) – an act that led Professor Kevin Johnson of the University of California to call the decision ‘shameful acquiescence’.
But continued pressure from human rights groups and from the U.N High Commission of Refugees, amongst others, led to a compromise. The forced repatriation was a violation of international law, and it was hypocrtical since most all Cuban refugees were being given immediate asylum.
The government decided to do something.
And the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was born.
And nearly 34,000 refugees were detained there in the most decrepit and inhumane of conditions. And with this came the arguments of the extra-legality of the facility that would later be perfected for the illegal incarceration of suspected ‘Al-Qaeda’ and ‘Taliban‘ supporters.
‘While conceding that the Haitians are treated differently from other national groups who seek asylum in the US, the Government argued that the U.S. Constitution and other sources of U.S. and International law do not apply to Guantanamo’ – (Powell, page 59)
Confronted with the realization that the refugees where being detained at the facility for long periods of time – nearly 2 years for some, without a meaningful hearing, the administration called upon the finest legal minds it could find to justify its practices.
So basically, US officials could intercept boats of refugees fleeing persecution and detain them indefinitely and without access to legal advice and a fair trail at the US detention center at US military base at Guantanamo because it was not on US soil. A policy that led one human rights lawyer to state:
‘The US policy of forced repatriation violated international legal
obligations of the United States under Article 33 of the Protocol
relating to the status of Refugees and undermines the credibiity of the
US commitment to international law in the eyes of the rest of the world’ – (O’Niell, page 39)
And amongst these detained refugees, there were about 250 very special refugees; the ones identified as HIV+. And they were sent to Camp Bulkeley, the ‘HIV detention camp’.
What happened to them there is best read in Paul Farmer’s powerful book on health and human rights called ‘Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor’ Suffice it to say that they were victims of the most inhumane, cruel and callous treatment at the hands of US military, health and legal officials.
There was little or no public outcry about the treatment of the Haitians. Most Americans never even noticed the hypocrisy of a policy that gave instant asylum to even terrorists arriving at our shores from Cuba – men involved in the bombing of civilian aeroplanes or assassination attempts on President Castro. We continue to harbor these terrorists on our shores today.
The Haitians however, fleeing from genuine repression, torture and killings, were repeatedly stopped and returned to the very shores where certain death awaited them.
In 2009 the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is expected to close.
Its legacy of torture, humiliation, beatings, illegal courts, and inhumane treatment of the innocent (as most nearly all of the even recent so-called ‘terrorist‘ detainees are), weak and suffering will not so easily be forgotten.