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“The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.”
“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
U.N. Convention Against Torture; Article 2, Section 2
The prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is the brightest star in the Bush firmament. It towers over the political landscape like a monument to human cruelty. That’s why the administration chose to slap it up in full view of the world. It’s their way of announcing that the fundamental rules of the game have changed.
There’s no need for Guantanamo. The United States has plenty of experience concealing political prisoners from the public. The CIA has been transporting enemy suspects to hidden locations since its inception. Certainly, an increase of 600 prisoners or so wouldn’t have caused much of a stir if they were tucked away in some remote corner of the earth. But, that’s not the purpose of Guantanamo. Guantanamo is intended to send a message that the internationally accepted norms of justice have been rescinded. From now on, all law proceeds from Washington.
The world seems oddly bewildered by this development. Individuals have protested the particularly heinous aspects of the new system, like the use of torture, or detention without charges. But, these are just the trimmings and don’t get to the heart of the matter. Guantanamo is a deliberate effort to overturn every legal protection that safeguards the individual from the arbitrary actions of the state. Simply put, it is the end of the law.
What is it that we fail to grasp about Guantanamo? Are we so blinded by the assuring narrative of democracy and personal freedom that we don’t recognize the symbols of tyranny when we see them? The reality of Guantanamo is quite stark; a dull-gray world of cinder-block and wire situated beyond the reach of any law or regulation. Is their some doubt about what this really means?
Just yesterday the Washington Post reported that the “Bush administration is preparing plans for possible lifetime detention of suspected terrorists, including hundreds whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts.” Isn’t this conspicuous power grab by the president enough to awaken even the most blasé observer? Remember, these prisoners have never been charged with a crime and, yet, the administration is paving the way for permanent incarceration.
The Washington Post report comes on the heels of last week’s article by the ACLU which confirmed that “President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq.”
So, now there’s a paper trail connecting the President directly to the torture that was “systematically” conducted at Guantanamo.
Torture? Permanent imprisonment without charges? These are the most fundamental violations of the law. How can we continue to ignore the gravity of this situation?
Guantanamo embodies the ethos of the Bush administration; an aggressive and inflexible dogma that regards force as the organizing principle of society. In this respect, Guantanamo is less notable as a jail than it is as a summary of a particular world view. In fact, the facility is a realization of the new world order; a chilling vision of oppression in brick-and-mortar.
Guantanamo wasn’t created to address the nebulous threat of global terrorism. As Neil Lewis confirms in a Jan 1, New York Times article, “very few of the prisoners had much value.” (This has been corroborated by many other sources who acknowledge that the more dangerous Al Qaida suspects have been spirited away to other locations for interrogation) Rather, it was built to broadcast the launching of a global police state, administered by the United States and in brazen defiance of universally accepted standards of justice. This explains the administration’s growing hostility towards the UN. Beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, the Bush team is battling the world body to be accepted as the final authority on international affairs. Guantanamo ensures that a change in world leadership is not forthcoming. (As the Iraq war proved, 70% of Americans still support the UN as the legitimate authority on issues like military intervention)
Guantanamo is the collaborative vision of American plutocrats who are close to the administration and who affect policy decisions through their respective think tanks and lobbyists. If that wasn’t true, we would have heard squeals of protest echoing from every corner of the nation. Instead, (apart from a scattering of human rights groups and the ACLU) there’s been hardly a peep from the country’s elites. For the most part, “the privileged few” have no problem with a system that categorically denies its victims even minimal human rights. The disparity in wealth sadly disposes many of these plutocrats to more autocratic government.
The UN has failed miserably in providing moral leadership on the issue of Guantanamo. None of the member states have stood up and openly condemned the US or suggested that it be penalized for its despotic conduct. The question of sanctions has never even been seriously considered. How can we expect change in the face of such abject cowardice?
Removing Guantanamo won’t be easy. Bush has assumed absolute power over the detention of prisoners, and he won’t surrender that without a fight. His supporters see the enhanced power of the executive as a critical to their long-range plans. It allows them to sidestep Congress to achieve their goals. They want a president who is free to operate unilaterally and according to his own inclinations. This means that rolling back these exaggerated presidential powers will be a daunting task.
Guantanamo is symptomatic of a much graver disease. Time and again, the administration has taken aim at the laws that protect the individual. The Homeland Security Bill, the Patriot Act and the new Intelligence Reform Bill all seriously undermine basic constitutional rights. Guantanamo follows this tendency to its logical conclusion. It offers us a glimpse of the void; a vision of the world stripped of justice. Guantanamo is not anomaly, but the full-flowering of the Bush ideology. The “shining house on the hill” is actually a ghoulish shrine to cruelty and oppression. No public relations scheme can obscure its real meaning. Guantanamo is a distress signal from a sinking republic; an early warning sign that personal liberty is under siege.
Guantanamo is the logical extension of the corporate system. It focuses on dispatching potential enemies with maximum efficiency. The prison’s main architect, Secretary Rumsfeld, has tried to meet the requirements of global commerce by producing a precision model of detention; applying his Germanic sensibility for organization with a “top-down” business strategy that sidesteps all the burdensome laws of due process. He has, in fact, created the modern-day terror-camp, free from any legal encumbrances and operating with complete impunity. However horrible the crime, no one is ever held accountable at Rummy’s private Buchenwald.
The Gulag at Guantanamo casts a pall over American political life. It illustrates a seismic shift in our fundamental values as Americans and a wholesale betrayal of our commitment to human rights. Concentration camps are anathema to democracy and Guantanamo is asphyxiating the promise of American justice. Institutions that once were counted on to protect the individual have been casually discarded by the perpetrators of the most despicable crimes against humanity. The Bush administration has assumed the role of Grand Inquisitor; dispensing “cruel and inhuman” punishment without remorse or hesitation. They’ve elevated injustice to a level of state policy. Guantanamo is a fitting testimonial to their tragic lack of compassion.
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org