Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has played a critical role in U.S. foreign policy since the nineteenth century. The U.S. Naval Station there is the oldest American base outside of the continental United States, and the only U.S. base located in a country with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations. Known alternately as GITMO, the 45-square-mile base is located at Cuba’s southeastern tip and is approximately four hundred miles from Miami, Florida. In 2006 GITMO was home to approximately 8,500 U.S. service personnel (and their dependents) whose mission includes providing logistical support to the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, maintaining migrant operations, and hosting the Detainee Mission of the “War on Terror” under the direction of the Joint Task Force Guantánamo.
American presence began when the United States invaded Guantánamo Bay and established a marine base during the Spanish-American War. Cuban independence fighters worked with American forces to expel Spain. At the end of the war in August 1898, the United States controlled Cuba. The 1901 Platt Amendment, adopted by the U.S. Congress and incorporated into Cuba’s constitution, defined U.S. involvement in Cuba’s affairs. Until such time as Cuba had an independent government, the United States would intervene to preserve Cuban independence or to maintain “a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.” The amendment also ceded Guantánamo to the United States.
After Cuba’s independence in 1903, the Cuban-American Treaty stipulated that the United States would lease Guantánamo Bay as a coaling and naval station. The lease gave the United States “complete jurisdiction and control” of the territory while recognizing “the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba.” Guantánamo Bay’s unique status was born. The Platt Amendment was annulled in 1934, and the Permanent Treaty codified the leasing arrangement, specifying that the United States would pay an annual sum of approximately $4, 085. Since the Revolution of 1959, the Cuban government has accepted only one payment for the lease of Guantánamo, in the first year after the Cuban Revolution. By its own terms, the lease can be abrogated only by mutual agreement. The Cuban government maintains that the base constitutes an unlawful military occupation resulting from an agreement forcefully imposed on Cuba.
In 1964 Cuban president Fidel Castro cut water and supplies to the base hoping to compel U.S. withdrawal. Instead, the base became self-sufficient for its own water and energy. American personnel have been evacuated temporarily from Guantánamo on two occasions: during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and in 1994, as the population exceeded 40,000 when the base became a holding facility for Haitian and Cuban migrants seeking refuge in the United States. The base continues to serve as an ongoing migrant processing facility, capable of accommodating 40 people, or 10,000 in an emergency.
After September 11, 2001, the base’s mission expanded to include the Detainee Mission of the War on Terror. Beginning in 2002, more than 600 prisoners from approximately thirty countries were brought by the United States to Guantánamo from Afghanistan. The detainees were suspected of having ties to either the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and they were held indefinitely, without charges, without counsel, and without access to American courts. The detainees’ legal status and treatment have been a matter of grave international concern. In 2007 approximately 385 detainees remained imprisoned in Guantánamo.
The U.S. government first posited that the detainees were not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts because Guantánamo was not part of the sovereign territory of the United States. Second, the government consistently held that the detainees in Guantánamo were “enemy combatants” and thus beyond the protections provided to Prisoners of War under the Geneva Conventions.
In summer 2004 the Supreme Court held in Rasul v. Bush that the United States exercises “complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantánamo under the 1903 treaty, even though Guantánamo is under the “ultimate sovereignty” of Cuba. Hence, the detainees had the right to be heard in U.S. courts. As a result, the U.S. government instituted military tribunals to determine whether the detainees were enemy combatants. These tribunals lacked fundamental constitutional protections guaranteed in U.S. courts.
In 2006 the Supreme Court heard the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, who had been detained at Guantánamo since 2002. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court found, by a vote of 5–3, that the president overstepped his powers by authorizing these military tribunals, which lacked essential legal and constitutional safeguards. Additionally, the Court held that the tribunals violated the Geneva Conventions, rejecting the Bush administration’s argument that the Conventions did not apply to the detainees at Guantánamo. However, the Court did not require Congress to apply the Geneva Convention to the war on terror.
Late in 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, eliminating the right of habeas corpus for enemy combatants, allowing the admission of coerced evidence, and giving the president the power to define who is an enemy combatant. The Act does, however, give detainees fair notice of the charges against them, counsel paid for by the American government, and considerable discovery of the prosecution’s case against them. In March 2007, the military tribunals in Guantánamo recommenced with high profile cases resulting in a number of guilty pleas. At the same time, skepticism from left-wing politicians regarding the proceedings grew with increasing calls for the closing of the Gitmo detention center.
Most notably, Robert Gates, who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense in 2007, reportedly called for the closing of the detention center because of concern that the prosecution of war on terror was burdened by the proceedings and their perception by foreign nations. The U.S. Supreme Court may be compelled to address the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act.
SEE ALSO Al-Qaeda; Castro, Fidel; Cuban Missile Crisis; Imprisonment; Interrogation; Iraq–U.S. War; Military
Guantánamo Bay. GITMO. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/guantanamo-bay.htm.
The Illegal United States Naval Base in Guantánamo. Official Cuban Foreign Ministry Website.
Lease of Coaling or Naval Stations Agreement Between the United States and Cuba (1903). 2004. In Guantánamo: What the World Should Know, eds. Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray, 94–96. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Shanker, Thom and David E. Sanger. 2007. New to Job, Gates Argued for Closing Guantánamo. New York Times, March 22.
Mary M. McKenzie
Guantánamo Bay is an inlet on the extreme southeast coast of Cuba. The bay makes an excellent harbor because it is sheltered from storms, has deep waters, and lies near the Windward Passage. After the U.S. Navy found it useful in the Spanish-American War (1898), the U.S. government decided to acquire the bay for a naval base. The right to do so was provided for in the Platt Amendment, which was appended to the Cuban constitution of 1901 and incorporated in a treaty between the United States and Cuba on 22 May 1903. On 2 July 1903, the United States leased the bay and its outer shoreline for $2,000 annually. Although the United States abrogated the Platt Amendment in 1934, it retained the right to the naval base in Guantánamo Bay. After coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro unsuccessfully attempted to force the United States from the facility but continued to permit Cuban nationals to work for the U.S. Navy.
Guantánamo Bay has received considerable attention since 2002, when the U.S. government began to hold alleged terrorists there. Human rights groups and others have sharply criticized the Guantánamo detention camps because of the limited access to judicial review offered to detainees and because of poor conditions in the camp. Some groups have alleged that prisoners have been mistreated.
Emilio Roig De Leuchsenring, Historia de la Enmienda Platt, 2 vols. (1935).
David F. Healy, The United States in Cuba, 1898–1902: Generals, Politicians, and the Search for Policy (1963).
Gary L. Maris, "International Law and Guantánamo," Journal of Politics 29 (1967): 261-286.
Walter J. Raymond, "The Feasibility of Rapprochement Between the Republic of Cuba and the United States: The Case of the Guantánamo Naval Base," Caribbean Quarterly 21 (1975): 35-46.
Butler, Clark. Guantanamo Bay and the Judicial-Moral Treatment of the Other. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2007.
Pérez, Louis A. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy, 3rd edition. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003.
Reverter, Emma. Guantánamo: Prisioneros en el limbo de la ilegalidad internacional. Barcelona: Ediciones Península, 2004.
Saar, Erik, and Viveca Novak. Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier's Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.
Thomas M. Leonard
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, U.S. naval base, naval air station, and U.S. Marine Corps base near the eastern end of the south coast of Cuba. This 36,000-acre compound fell under American control under the terms of the Platt Amendment of 1901, by which the United States obtained the right to intervene in Cuba and to buy or lease territory for naval stations. A new treaty in 1934 eliminated the right of intervention but reasserted prior stipulations in regard to Guantánamo Bay. The Cuban Communist government of Fidel Castro later denied the validity of the treaties, but the United States retained the base. The site has an excellent deep-water land-locked harbor.
Charles B. MacDonald / a. r.
See also Caribbean Policy ; Cuba, Relations with ; Treaties with Foreign Nations .