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The US Supreme Court’s 29 June ruling in Hamdan v Rumsfeld against the Bush administration’s aim of setting up special military commissions to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was a welcome comeuppance for the imperial presidency Bush has cultivated since 11 September 2001. For the past several years, Bush has claimed the power to detain so-called unlawful enemy combatants without trial indefinitely; to ‘extraordinarily render’ people to countries known to torture prisoners; to defy Geneva Conventions and other international treaties and laws that restrict his war-making powers; to engage in surveillance without legal warrants; and to engage in practices that even the US describes as torture (on the condition that other countries engage in them). But the court’s ruling alone does not spell an end to the imperial presidency, nor will it lead to the closing of Guantánamo.
‘Nobody gets a “get-out-of-jail-free” card,’ proclaimed White House press secretary Tony Snow. ‘This will not mean closing down Guantánamo.’ The editors of the Wall Street Journal were quick to point out that: ‘Amid all of the anti-war cheering, we should also point out what Hamdan does not do. It does not shut down the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, or question the president’s right to hold unlawful combatants for the duration of hostilities. It also does not apply to most of the prisoners there — only 10 of the roughly 450 Guantánamo detainees are immediately affected by the ruling. And it does not reclassify enemy combatants as ordinary prisoners of war, as many in the European left and ACLU [the American Civil Liberties Union] would prefer. Moreover, Hamdan affirms that military commissions are constitutional and an appropriate part of American law.’
The Bush administration made it clear it would immediately seek congressional approval for the commissions to try at least some of the remaining Guantánamo detainees, many of whom have been held for years without any due process, stressing that the Supreme Court’s judgement only challenged the power of the president to establish such tribunals without congressional oversight. ‘The court’s conclusion ultimately rests upon a single ground: Congress has not issued the executive a blank cheque,’ Supreme Court justice Stephen G Breyer wrote in his concurring opinion.
Sadly, though, the US Congress has essentially given Bush such a blank cheque. The Democrats — who have posed no substantive opposition to the wars against Afghanistan or Iraq, or the broader, open-ended ‘war on terror’ — have voted repeatedly in support of the Bush administration’s imperial agenda. The Democrats have at times raised tactical differences, but on the decisive questions, they have voted to renew the USA Patriot Act, to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, and to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, and they have remained largely silent on Guantánamo and other detention camps the US has established around the world.
After the Supreme Court judgment, a number of leading congressional Democrats declared they would work with Bush to pass legislation allowing the tribunals to continue – and, of course, preserve Guantánamo. Meanwhile, the Republicans quickly sought to take advantage of the ruling. As the Washington Post noted, the party ‘looked to wrest a political victory from a legal defeat in the supreme court, serving notice to Democrats that they must back President Bush on how to try suspects at Guantánamo Bay or risk being branded as weak on terrorism’ – a trap that the Democrats never tire of falling into.
Indeed, in the media buzz about the Hamdan v Rumsfeld decision (named after Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who had allegedly served as Osama bin Laden’s driver), one very important fact was repeatedly missed. As the New York Daily News reported, ‘While the president negotiates with Congress on the new rules [for handling detainees], construction workers from a Halliburton Corp subsidiary were preparing the new $30 million maximum-security jail at the naval base on Cuba’s southeastern coast for an August opening.’
Ironically, one of the most prominent voices to call for closing Guantánamo is retired US army general Barry R McCaffrey – but for different reasons than those put forward by human rights activists around the globe. McCaffrey believes that if the Guantánamo detainees are released, ‘It may be cheaper and cleaner to kill them in combat than sit on them for the next 15 years.’
So, while the Hamdan decision was a welcome one, we should not expect the Supreme Court or Congress to close Guantánamo. The deeper problems of torture, rendition, and the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the open-ended rationale of the ‘war on terror’, which may be used to mobilise an attack against Iran, Syria or another target, remain.
In other ways, though, the tide is turning. Public opinion in the US has shifted against the Iraq intervention, with a majority now feeling it was wrong to attack Iraq and that the invasion has made people less, not more, safe. A Zogby poll found that 72 per cent of active duty US troops in Iraq want to come home within a year, and 29 per cent want to come home immediately. Every day, people appreciate more and more the contradictions between the lies told to get the US into Iraq and the reality on the ground. Each claim to have ‘turned a corner’ in Iraq is less credible than the last. In May 2006, the number of bodies that came through the central morgue in Baghdad was double that of May 2005. Iraqi attacks on US and allied forces now average 600 a week, up 13 per cent from the end of 2005.
Groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War have taken a courageous stand against the Iraq occupation, raising three demands. These are: immediate withdrawal, reparations for the Iraqis, and genuine support for veterans who have been abandoned by an administration that drones on about how we must ‘support our troops’ – by which they mean only that we must support a government that sends them needlessly to kill and be killed.
The campaign Witness Against Torture: A Campaign to Shut Down Guantánamo is organising a campaign of education and civil disobedience. And more connections are being made within the US anti-war movement between Guantánamo and the roll back of domestic civil liberties, especially for immigrants and Muslims, that has gone hand in hand with the war abroad.
Members of the Green Party and other anti-war activists were instrumental in winning referendums in 24 towns in the state of Wisconsin recently calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. These local initiatives can make an important connection between what’s happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and Guantánamo, and what is happening in communities across the US. The costs of this war now amount, at a conservative estimate, to hundreds of billions of dollars.
A recent study by Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University lecturer Linda Bilmes estimates the full cost of the war is closer to $1.5 trillion and could rise to $2.6 trillion if the occupation continues to 2010. Meanwhile, communities across the country have seen cuts in health care, education, job training, and other vital social programmes. The number of families with loved ones and friends killed or injured in Iraq is growing every day.
More needs to be done, however, to support soldiers who are speaking out and who are declaring conscientious objection, to challenge the lies recruiters tell to entice vulnerable young people into the military, to link the war abroad with the war against immigrants and poor and working people, to confront politicians who support the war, and to build momentum for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. A significant gap exists in the US between popular opinion and the degree of organisation and protest, especially the kind of protest that can disrupt business-as-usual for US elites and force them to rethink the cost-benefit calculus of remaining in Iraq and maintaining an international gulag system.
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Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
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The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
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Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
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A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
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Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament