Tuppence for a jumpsuit

I’ve just unhappily read a review of The Guantánamo Effect, published this month and coauthored by a pair who’ve done extensive research with ex-detainees. It looks at aspects of ex-inmate livelihood seldom discussed in popular media – the financial aspects of detention, including compensation, bounty figures, and Red Cross pocket-money, employment, and health. I think this is the first time I’ve come across the phrase ‘traffiking’ used to describe the movement of people and money in the context of Guantánamo .

It’s a sad read. I’m intrigued as to what you may think of the last part of the discussion though – in reference to Guantánamo as a carefully crafted method of reverse-terrorism – ? Hmm. Worrying.

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5 thoughts on “Tuppence for a jumpsuit

  1. Interesting and harrowing, like most guantanamo pieces. The War on Terror is striking in how difficult it is for critical voices to categorise. At various times we’ve heard it as an effort to assert and restore a supposed “American identity” or standard Marxist stuff about geopolitics and oil resources (but what oil/gas? Where?). The lrb article frames it in terms of organised crime, but clearly for ideational over material gain. The thing I’m convinced with least is that the war is for security reasons, as mainstream voices insist. But where, dear bathhouse, do we stand on it, which is of course a question of, how do we think about it?

  2. So, I think pretty much the war on terror has everything to do with security and defence. But not a reasonable way. I honestly think we’d have to trawl back through the Cold war (honestly…) in order to follow foreign policy, home affairs and how upcoming elections influence the course of foreign policy. The Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam and probably a lot more (dunno) hinged around who had the guts/gumption /audacity to put the issue forth into the public sphere and then dedicate their policy to combatting it as a ‘problem’ instead of tackling the real problems of poverty, segregation and corruption at home.

    Conventionally, I always imagine defence to be about big walls and keeping people out. Realistically, it appears to be about pre-emptive striking, geo-political agendas and home affairs. Which drives which? In a way, even if the agenda in afghanistan is geopolitical (think it is), it is still done in the name of security and defence. But not to stop terrorism, to defend American supremacy by strategic means. Geographically, Aghanistan is central and important isn’t it? Is it? Well, this might explain why it has been an Imperial trampling ground for quite some time. Ultimately, I like to think colonialism ended with the ‘sun setting on the British empire’ as Niall ferguson pompously puts it. But really – c’mon, modern invasions are just an evolved form of Imperialism. I’m rambling, I’ll post some articles up which shed light on this for me, hopefully for you too.

  3. I agree with the argument, but if you start from a framework of pre-existing ‘states’ that have an inherent law which makes them defend themselves and their populations from each other, then you cannot account for the fact that states are historical creations with socially created impulses (and that doesn’t mean post-modern linguistic creations but socially created institutions etc).

    Perhaps you could say that this is no longer important because states clearly exist now and geopolitical relations takes place through them, but I think that masks more than it explains.

  4. I think that whatever the motivation behind America’s so called ‘defence policy’ (whether it be protection of American civilians under threat of a terrorist attack on US soil or the strategic interest America has in Afghanistan), Guantanamo existed as an integral part of this defence strategy and the ‘war on terror’. As Sahil mentioned, this ‘war on terror’ is difficult to categorise, and I think that’s because the US took a whole new approach to dealing with their ‘enemy’. Although extraordinary rendition has been around since at least the 1980s and no one has ever believed the reputation of the US secret services to be squeaky clean, the blatant illegality of detaining without trial and the methods of torture employed at Guantanamo have not been seen so overtly before.

    So is it the case that America’s ‘considered’ response to terrorism was the creation of a new kind of warfare, a ‘reverse-terrorism’? Or is what we are seeing in Guantanamo and detention centres such as Abu Ghraib merely a desperate backlash against an enemy that seems otherwise undeterred and unresponsive? I think that perhaps the existence of Guantanamo reveals America’s lack of understanding of their enemy, an inability to deal with it, and a resultantly chaotic and incomprehensive attempt at a new defence policy.

    The ‘terrorist threat’ surely represents an unconventional enemy for the US. America has been confronted with an enemy supposedly motivated by a religious, rather than a political, ideology, by an enemy comprising humans that volunteer themselves as weapons and yet have reasonably small supplies of conventional weapons, and by an enemy that does not emanate from just one country but that is rather sprawling throughout countries globally. This is not a war that America could successfully fight by brandishing its most up-to-date weapons and invading another state.

    There seem to a number of prevailing and inaccurate ideas about this unconventional enemy that continually motivate America’s defence policy. One idea is that members of Al-Qaida (or all terrorists in general) are connected by one massive worldwide network, well connected with pooled resources and identical aims and that by cutting off this network from the top, the whole network will collapse – presumably what America hopes to achieve by detaining key players at Guantanamo. Another idea is that all Muslims, particularly those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, potentially present a general terrorist ‘threat’ – paying for prisoners (which sounds to be a fairly indiscriminate process) and having perhaps more than 500 falsely accused Muslim detainees at Guantanamo surely illustrates this.

    I think Guantanamo was an attempt to deal with what America perceived to be its enermy, according to ideas such as these, but not so much out of a ‘reverse terrorism’ strategy but more out of an inability to understand and confront this ‘enemy’ in any other way. The fact that America’s perception of this enemy and how to deal with it is vastly misguided has no wonder led to the complete failure of Guantanamo. Aside from the obvious and serious illegalities of Guantanamo to start with, its existence has ostracized many innocent Muslims and convinced many others of America’s status as the enemy. In terms of America’s defence policy, the focus on detaining key leaders of terrorist networks seems to miss the point. The nature of this ‘enemy’ is that it is self perpetuating – if one leader is removed, another will develop. Had America focussed on understanding the ideological gap between itself and its ‘enemy’ rather than brazenly using violence to attempt to crush it, the situation may not have worsened, as it has now. Instead, America has convinced this ‘enemy’ of its immorality and gone a long way to proving it to the rest of the world too.

  5. Quality bathhousing (and a welcome debut)…

    I agree entirely that the lack of understanding brought ever more horrid and chaotic responses. I guess I have a few ill-informed views on it all.

    9/11 shook the US national identity and conciousness in a way that demanded response. Nations are made and remade constantly and exist only in so far as people lend them legitimacy (ie believe in them) and ‘protection’ is pretty much the foundation of what we expect from our nations.

    The massively public and graphic way that US leaders defined both the country and the opposition (“you are either with us, the American people or with them the evil doers etc blah”) reasserted an idea of nationhood, and the visible ways in which the enemy (which as Clare points out, is stateless) were dehumanised was an important aspect of this.

    Also, the ‘War on Terror’, once established as a national (and global) conversation, became a focal point for different groups to mobilise around. So US security institutions – both public and private – benefit greatly from both ramping up the perception of threat and their efforts at ‘neutralising’ it.Much like authoritarian Islamists find the story of the War on Terror a potent tale with which to push their beliefs.

    There is a good article from Gary Younge on the War on Terror – nothing revelatory but a concise argument. Also, Newsnight yesterday featured a guilt-ridden US Guantanamo guard seeking out and then meeting with two freed inmates to apologise. Mawkish, but disarmingly charming (in the words of Kunal Dutta).

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