10 November 2007

Guantánamo by the Numbers

"It is not just that some humans are treated as humans, and
others are dehumanized; it is rather that dehumanization -
treating some humans as outside the scope of the law - becomes
one tactic by which a putatively distinct "Western"
civilization seeks to define itself over and against
a population understood as, by definition, illegitimate."
~ Judith Butler (2002
) [See this too.]

Guantánamo Bay (2006) Photograph
© Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times

Here is a useful Op-Ed from The New York Times sketching figures on our operation at Guantánamo Bay. The costs of the operaiton seem to be staggering, especially if we question this crucial premise the authors offer:

"The Bush administration may legitimately claim certain benefits
from the Guantánamo system. Some dangerous men are held
there, and valuable intelligence has probably been gathered,
perhaps evensome that has enabled the government to
disrupt terrorist activities."

In an essay aiming to offer a quantitative index of the state of Guantánamo, this assumption about its benefits is purely data-free speculation. Other than administration assurances we have no basis to assume that any "valuable intelligence" has emerged from the prison or the dubious things we have done to those housed there. Given the propensity of BushCo to lie about nearly everything, one would have to be extremely credulous to take the second part of the premise as plausible.

That leaves the first part. It may be that we have locked up "some dangerous men" at Guantánamo. I will grant that. But the differential between the number of detainees at its peak (approx. 700) or even now and the number charged with anything resembling a serious crime, makes even that claim seem greatly exaggerated.

The arguments about costs and benefits of running mass detention centers like Guantánamo, though, misses the underlying point that Butler makes in the epigram. It is not just the treatment of this or that individual prisoner or group of detainees that, however important, is at stake here. The very strategy of establishing camps in order to circumvent some, indeed any, system of legal protection for prisoners, is insidious. It situates arbitrarily defined populations as exiting outside the games of law and ethics and politics. This is what BushCo have done at Guantánamo.

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Blogger Tom White said...

To paraphrase Ralph Ellison, how can a country hold dear the premise that all men are created equal while at the same time treating some as if they are not.

10 November, 2007 18:49  

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