360° Analysis

Guantánamo Bay: The “Law-Free” Environment (Part 2/2)


September 17, 2013 22:37 EDT

The US government has created a “law-free” custodial environment at Guantánamo Bay. This is the last of a two part series. Read part one here.

Important in understanding the War on Terror’s true purposes is the fact that, in light of the US government’s tactics in waging the war, it is very difficult to conclude that it will ever end and in which geographic areas it will be fought, both now and in the future. After all, the tactics the government is using — to include seemingly indiscriminate unmanned drone attacks in multiple Muslim countries, detentions without trial or end, torture, renditions, and the continuing erosion of personal privacy here in the United States — all raise questions regarding the US government’s true aims and, for the most part, seem more likely to exacerbate the threat of terrorism, rather than alleviate it. After all, with Washington’s piecemeal approach of individually targeting terrorist suspects, it is difficult to grasp the government’s contemplated endgame, assuming one exists.

This is because, based upon this piecemeal approach, there is no endgame, as the US government can continue the war perpetually without meaningful democratic oversight or review, so long as it maintains its assurances of the existence of a credible threat. This is a natural consequence of the fact that the government maintains a monopoly on the information necessary to arrive at an informed decision on the war’s necessity and effectiveness. This is where the detention camps at Guantánamo Bay and other government detention policies come into play.

Because the US government’s strategy in waging the War on Terror appears to be so fundamentally ill-suited for accomplishing the war’s stated objectives and, as stated above, likely exacerbates the concern it allegedly addresses, Washington needed, and continues to need, what passes for evidence supporting the necessity for the war which is beyond meaningful review and democratic oversight. The US government claims that it cannot provide meaningful support for its attacks on the targets of its war, because, it claims, to do so would jeopardize national security.

We are asked simply to support its efforts without question. The US government’s detention policies, which place the purported enemy beyond the reach of the American populace and, to this day, largely beyond the reach of meaningful, independent legal counsel, provide propaganda fodder, in the form of the detainees, and enable the government to lend a sense of credibility to its threat claims. These detention policies, and the way that they are effectuated in near absolute secrecy, enable the Washington to unilaterally and completely control the narrative regarding the apparent threat posed by the detainees and their alleged colleagues who remain at large.

The US government, to this day, has, through these detention policies, been remarkably successful in controlling the detainees’ narrative, thus enabling the government to generate continuing support for a war that is, at best, ill-advised and at worst, illegal. This, and not any illusory national security benefit, is why so many detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay without meaningful hope of release and appear to be in a state of unending legal and practical limbo.

The detention camps at Guantánamo Bay were, from day one, meant to serve an instrumental role in shaping public and world opinion, that being to create a sense of urgency and overriding importance to the US government’s war-time footing in furtherance of its War on Terror. By continuing to maintain the detention camps at Guantánamo Bay, the government can effectively characterize those detained there in any manner it chooses, for the sole apparent purpose of justifying a response to the resulting perceived threat that those detained there purportedly pose. This, in turn, enables the US government to set the geographic, tactical, strategic, and temporal agenda for its perpetual war. Therein lies the primary utility of the detention camps at Guantánamo Bay and other prisons of similar effect.

So what evidence do we have that the US government is using Guantánamo Bay for public relations purposes, rather than for legitimate penal or national security reasons? One example supporting this conclusion comes from the past debate on whether there are some detainees at Guantánamo Bay, who are so dangerous that merely transporting them to United States soil for detention would pose an untenable national security risk. This argument, which is, on its face, suspect, highlights the nature of the Washington’s claims, not only with respect to the necessity of a facility like the detention camps at Guantánamo Bay, but also of the war itself.

There seems to be no reasonable explanation about how any detainee can be so dangerous that his (or her) mere presence within the territory of the United States would pose a security risk to the country as a whole. After all, the United States Bureau of Prisons is more than capable of securely housing the most notorious of convicted criminals. This argument, rather than being designed to ensure a secure nation, is designed to thoroughly demonize some or all of the detainees in order to create an atmosphere that supports the US government’s justification for the War on Terror, and its no-holds-barred tactics in prosecution of the war.

Another source of support for the theory that the detention camps at Guantánamo Bay serve a largely public relations purpose, is the government’s unilateral and complete control over the selection of defense counsel representing detainees charged before the military commissions. As mentioned in my Fair Observer article on December 13, 2012, the American military simply will not permit the detainees facing war crimes charges before the military commissions to select their own counsel, which is curious in light of this right’s fundamental standing in the United States Constitution and criminal law jurisprudence.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants a near-absolute right for criminal defendants to select their own counsel. However, this right is not being honored at the detention camps of Guantánamo Bay and the government is quite aggressive in its denial. Why? Simply put, this policy further enables the US government to control the narrative coming from the detention camps in a way that is consistent with its War efforts.

In summary, the primary purpose behind the US government’s detention policies in furtherance of its War on Terror is a public relations one. The government has always sought, and continues to seek, to characterize the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay in a manner that maximizes its ability to garner support for the War on Terror and its suspect tactics and strategies in furtherance thereof. This conclusion should lead one to question the underlying premises upon which arguments supporting the war itself are based.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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