by Kade Crockford
As researcher Darryl Li points out, most of the Wikileaks Gitmo dump consists of US intelligence “’detainee assessments’ that reveal more about the inner fantasy world of the US intelligence apparatus than who the detainees really are.”
Li reminds us of Hannah Arendt’s insightful reading of the Pentagon Papers. Poring through these DoD papers, Li writes, she was “struck by the bureaucratic self-deception and “defactualization” that thrive in environments of official secrecy, and the same rings true here: The Guantanamo jailers saw what they wanted to see – and found what pressures from above and their own cultural presuppositions pushed them to find.” (Emphasis mine.)
We have known for a long time that Gitmo was built on a foundation other than the rule of law. These documents show us that the world inside of Gitmo has been constructed purely by the US military imagination, where officials are free to conjure up demons out of thin air (i.e. the Casio watch) in an environment shrouded from public scrutiny. The democratic processes of press oversight and extra-military accountability (for example, in US courts) that would have encouraged a basic separation of fact from fiction regarding its prisoners and their supposed ‘crimes’ have been systematically excluded from the space. Our state apparatus and its willing apparatchiks in Congress warn us that we mustn’t know, lest the terrorists win.
The Wikileaks Gitmo files reveal the extent to which the fundamental separation of innuendo, rumor or pure fabrication from studied, provable fact helped to construct and maintain an environment in which torture and humiliation became common practice. Nothing was certain; therefore everything was permissible. But crucially, the recently leaked intelligence assessments never mention US torture of prisoners. Therefore the ‘defactualization’ process is not simply marked by carelessness, innocent omission, and cultural bias; it is fundamentally a fictional process, with less than savory and legally troublesome details purposefully excluded from the official record.
This nightmarish scenario adds a twist to the Red Queen’s declaration: “Sentence first…verdict afterwards!” In Gitmo, it has always been, “Sentence first…verdict unnecessary!” Or perhaps better stated, “Sentence first…verdict secret!”
Just as Hannah Arendt discovered when she read through the Pentagon Papers, we can now confirm that the most dangerous part of Gitmo’s operation was and is that the detention regime operates behind an iron wall of secrecy. There can be no open trials, no public hearings of evidence or defense. Justice Damon Keith’s famous warning that “democracies die behind closed doors” seems like a quaint reminder of a more innocent time, when ‘serious’ people could openly debate the value of secrecy or transparency.
But his warning is more relevant than ever, for our society at large. As our government quietly develops and extends its vast surveillance network throughout the nation and the world, we should remember that it is secrecy itself that is the enemy of freedom.
The government will always claim that secrecy protects us, but Gitmo painfully demonstrates that this is a false claim. It should come as no surprise now, after ten years of blatant extra-legality and government sponsored terror, to find that state secrecy often exists solely to protect the government from embarrassment or charges of criminality. Tragically, our courts have not stepped in to fulfill their constitutional mandate to check those abuses.
For the prisoners on the island base, the overwhelming majority of whom have not been – and likely never will be — convicted of any crime, Gitmo is the horrific marriage of Orwellian and Kafkaesque nightmares. It is a regime constituted by torture and humiliation mixed with bureaucratic denials and ‘mistakes’ that can’t be corrected, governed under a top-to-bottom prohibition against meaningful accountability or challenge, wrapped up neatly in a package of immunity and secrecy.
As Thomas Paine said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
If we allow our government to continue to operate behind the thick wall of state secrecy, we won’t know when our enemy is being oppressed. And when we allow for the destruction of others’ liberty in secret, we endanger ourselves further, for we won’t even know when our own liberty has been usurped.
The Gitmo files reveal what secrecy begets. Let us take heed of that warning as it applies to all of us, imprisoned in a CIA black site, locked up indefinitely without charge in Guantanamo, or not.
Kade Crockford is Privacy Rights Coordinator at the ACLU of Massachusetts. You can contact her at kcrockford [at] aclum [.] org.