Guantanamo: The First Postmodern Institution

Future horizons shine flecked with gold and freedom in the American dream. The continued existence of Guantanamo tarnishes it with blood.

'In our brief lives, freedom is all that matters'. The statement initially appears an archetypal embodiment of the love of liberty which America fights for, but was in fact uttered by someone classed for 11 years as an enemy, an innocent ex-Guantanamo detainee. It might seem strange to suggest that America has been fighting a war in Cuba for the past 13 years. But the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay, a notorious prison camp built in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks has seen men, many of whom were later released and deemed innocent (the pronouncer of that statement included) held indefinitely as prisoners of a war with no fixed battleground.

This piece is not being written from an anti-American perspective, it is a country whose constitutional basis, natural beauty and charming people I admire deeply. Some of those interned in Guantanamo were indeed guilty of masterminding some of the most monstrous crimes of recent times, the World Trade Centre hijacks included. But I agree utterly with journalist Brownen Maddox that 'any defence of America stops short at Guantanamo', it is a clear violation of so many of the principles that make the nation great.

Yet the wire mesh cages, extreme treatment of detainees and indefinite detainment without charge are not merely horrific in their own right. They represent what could be termed the world's first postmodern institution in which principles of freedom and democracy are wavered, where manipulation of language, laws and liberties have constructed an American project that goes against all its values. The difference of those prisoners and the circumstances are emphasised in defense of that system, this is no longer the 'great confinement' as described by Michel Foucault. The relations of power within Guantanamo have changed, the idea of the individual diminished in favour of special measures.

The language at play in Guantanamo lends itself well to a postmodern classification. Special rendition, enhanced interrogation techniques and non injurious physical contact would be seen as kidnap, abuse and torture were they happening in any other American prison or to an American soldier. Those held in this war on terror are not 'prisoners of war' (and thus are not subject to the Geneva convention) but 'enemy combatants'. This is perhaps ironic given that Vice journalist Molly Crabapple wrote that:

'Gitmo spokesman Robert Durand told me that Geneva Conventions prevent me from speaking to the detainees.'

Violence has been normalised and reclassified too. In the case of Nabil Hadjarab, the speaker quoted at the beginning of this article, splashing a guard with milk was deemed assault. Force feeding, described as akin to having a dagger shoved down ones throat. Guards at Guantanamo responded to Crabapple's queries by telling her that those force fed get to choose the flavour of liquid food. Prisoners have been laughably described by some as having more opportunities in Guantanamo than they do without. This statement is so twisted it needs no real explanation.

An additional emphasis of this difference has been the treatment of law, a pillar of decent society to hold murderers and members of high office to account alike. The creation of military commissions in which evidence is held secret is indeed partly for the protection of classified information, but the process has been attacked not just by defense lawyers but even former prosecutors as being particularly unjust. The American constitution guarantees even the most horrific of criminals a right to a fair trial, legal representation and only to be held once charged with a crime. The postmodern system in Guantanamo has by contrast, according to Maddox:

'had to make up the rules as it goes along.'

The lack of universalism at play here is pronounced, the issue of terrorism seems to require different treatment to other international crimes against America. Perhaps the world has indeed moved on from grand ideologies, focusing on new political and social challenges that call for a developed response. To do so at the expense of the fundamental rights, freedoms and legal systems that provide us with them in the name of a postmodern solution to a new problem seems fundamentally morally wrong at best. At worst it is a stripping of all value in the name of these values, creating us against them mentally with dangerous consequences. The stain of Guantanamo hurts America, it should be closed and those held captive charged, put on trial and if guilty brought to proper American justice. If they are found to be innocent of any crime and if no country will have them, why not give them a chance in the original land of opportunity itself?

Future horizons shine flecked with gold and freedom in the American dream. The continued existence of Guantanamo tarnishes it with blood.


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