By Steven W. Thrasher, Rolling Stone, 02 August 2022

NEW YORK - When I’m giving lectures about the criminalization of HIV, I often ask the audience, “When did the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay become a site of indefinite detention?” Nearly everyone who raises their hand and ventures a guess says the same thing: that this happened in the weeks following September 11, 2001, in the early days of the U.S. War on Terror.

This is incorrect. The War on Terror was begun by George W. Bush, and that failed two-decade war has involved confining alleged perpetrators under the dubious label “enemy combatants” to forty-five square miles the United States has occupied on the southeastern coast of Cuba since the Spanish-American War in 1898. But Guantánamo Bay’s use as a site of prolonged, hellish incarceration on land the United States controls (but on which the federal government argues U.S. law doesn’t necessarily apply) was in fact started by George H. W. Bush, the forty-third president’s father.

In 1991, when the elder Bush was the forty-first president, thousands of Haitians who had supported Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled their country after their democratically elected president was ousted in a coup. Intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard en route to Florida, the refuge-seeking Haitians were kept from getting to the U.S. mainland, which, under international treaties, would have forced the United States to accept them as political asylum seekers.

But the United States couldn’t send them back to almost-certain death in Haiti. So, the first Bush administration sent them to Guantánamo Bay, where they’d be under U.S. authority but wouldn’t necessarily have access to civil rights under U.S. law.

The Haitian refugee crisis of 1991, not the attacks of 9/11, was the inciting event that converted Guantánamo Bay into a space for indefinite detention.

Much as the Los Alamos National Laboratory has been home to both the Manhattan Project and the Pathogen Research Database, the history of HIV in America is intertwined with U.S. militarism.

A fear of immigrants bolstered by surgical eugenics formed the legal architecture for how the base would later be used for accused terrorists. The forced sterilizations weren’t happening in Nazi Germany; they were perpetrated by the U.S. government at the same time as Twin Peaks and The Oprah Winfrey Show were on the air.

And when news broke in the summer of 2020 that women in ICE custody had had hysterectomies performed on them without their consent, it was clear that the centuries-long American practice of sterilizing Black, brown, and native women had still not ended.