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.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’