Follow us on social

991485-scaled

GITMO at 20: A token of impunity

Two decades after opening, the Guantanamo Bay prison is a microcosm of the militaristic policies that brought it to life.

Analysis | Military Industrial Complex

It’s difficult to conclude that the U.S. military is, from top to bottom, subject to the rule of law when considering the privileged status that its leaders and policymakersenjoy: their lies go unchallenged and their failures go unpunished. America does not recognize the authority of the same international institutions that we insist others join and Pentagon spending is never the target of deficit and inflation hawkery. Most importantly, U.S. military policymaking — and its impacts — has been rendered wholly inaccessible and invisible to the American people.

Perhaps nowhere is this impunity more evident than at the Guantanamo Bay prison, the military detention center which opened 20 years ago today.

On January 11, 2002, the U.S. military brought 20 terrorist suspects to Guantanamo for imprisonment.. These detainees, military officials said then, were the “worst of the worst” — al-Qaida and Taliban members captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan.  

Three months after the devastating 9/11 terror attacks, Americans were proving themselves capable of supporting just about anything done in the name of our collective safety and security: only 4 percent of Americans opposed the Bush administration’s indefinite, unlawful detention of “enemy combatants” when GITMO opened.

It would become abundantly clear over the ensuing decades that GITMO was at best inconsequential to America’s counterterrorism efforts, and at worst a potent recruitment tool for terror groups like ISIS. Yet, as Mauritanian author and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi said recently, “When the military is in motion, the truth can’t keep up.” 

Winning the “Global War on Terror,” we were told, required the operation of an extrajudicial military prison in Cuba. To advance the Freedom Agenda — to win the battle between democracy and dictatorship — America had to subject 119 foreign Muslim men to the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, and torture at least 39. We had to detain, interrogate, and even abuse the 780 Muslim men and boys brought to GITMO since 2002, and some even say now that we still have to keep those remaining 39 detainees there  — 27 of whom are being held without any charges against them. 

From Vietnam to Iraq and beyond, a defining trait of America’s post-WWII U.S. military actions is their complete disconnect from compelling American interests. Our leaders entered these conflicts in the name of American security — and they were repeatedly extended and perpetuated long-after it became clear that they would fail to deliver on any of America’s strategic interests (to say nothing of the vast and bloody civilian toll caused by America’s overt and covert military actions). The creation of the Guantanamo Bay prison has followed a similar trajectory. 

Over the last 20 years, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that the Bush administration used to justify GITMO’s opening has also been used to justify U.S. military operations in at least 22 countries. GITMO is a perfect microcosm of the Global War on Terror that birthed it — its evidently ineffective and contrary to America’s stated values, yet it appears to be a permanent fixture of U.S. foreign policy.

This is why President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan seemed so remarkable: He was squaring a broken U.S. military policy (spending billions of dollars and risking American lives indefinitely in pursuit of a long-failed nation building project) with what was in the best interests of the American people. Yet Afghanistan was the exception that proves the rule; Biden has largely re-committed America to bloody, ineffective militaristic foreign policies — like spending $778 on the military while failing to invest in climate action, or pursuing the beginnings of a new Cold War with China — that make foreign policy elites very happy, while delivering few tangible benefits, and plenty of risks, to the American people.

Subjecting the U.S. military to the rule of law will be no small task, so those of us taking up the fight against America’s pursuit of military hegemony must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. The last 20 years at GITMO, which were marked by torture, abuse, and political promises made and broken, are an important reminder: even our most evidently flawed military policies are not “up for debate” in Washington. Despite relentless, fearless organizing and activism against GITMO, neither Congress nor the president has felt the political risks of closing GITMO outweigh the benefits of kicking the can down the road. But those of us standing in opposition to the war machine should also consider the Afghanistan withdrawal, and take heart: This impunity does not last forever. These policies are sacrosanct, right up until the moment that they aren’t, when the calculus changes.

An overgrowth of bushes and weeds is what remains of Camp X-Ray today, but back in 2002, it was established as a temporary detention camp for detainees. Still standing today is a reminder of Guantanamo Bay's past, continually serving as a historical site. (Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Cassandra Monroe/120th PAD)
Analysis | Military Industrial Complex
Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) looks on, following his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City, U.S., July 16, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

QiOSK

Today, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the first U.S. senator ever to be convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. While serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez ghost-wrote a letter and approved arms sales on behalf of the Egyptian regime in exchange for bribes, among other crimes on behalf of foreign powers in a sweeping corruption case. An Egyptian businessman even referred to Menendez in a text to a military official as “our man.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Menendez was engaging in politics for profit. "Because Senator Menendez has now been found guilty, his years of selling his office to the highest bidder have finally come to an end,” he said.

keep readingShow less
What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy?

USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy?

Washington Politics

Donald Trump announced earlier today that he had selected Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance to be his running mate. Coming only two days after the assassination attempt on the former president in Butler, Pennsylvania, Trump’s selection elevated the young first-term senator to the Republican national ticket as the party’s national convention was getting underway in Milwaukee. In choosing Vance, Trump seems to have ignored pressure from Rupert Murdoch, who had reportedly been lobbying intensively in favor of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and against Vance. Trump has chosen a loyalist who will appeal to his core supporters in the party’s populist wing.

While the selection makes sense in terms of the senator’s political alignment with Trump, it is somewhat unconventional given Vance’s limited experience in government. Vance will be the youngest vice presidential nominee since Richard Nixon in 1952. He has been in elected office for only a year and a half. Vance will likely face a lot of questions about his preparedness to serve as president if necessary.

keep readingShow less
States should let the feds handle foreign influence

The Bold Bureau / Shutterstock.com

States should let the feds handle foreign influence

Washington Politics

In April, a state bill in Georgia aimed at clamping down on foreign influence landed on the desk of Governor Brian Kemp.

Presented under the guise of common-sense legislation, the bill was more reminiscent of McCarthyism; if passed, it would have required workers of foreign-owned businesses such as Hyundai, Adidas, or Anheuser-Busch in Georgia to register as foreign agents, placing a huge burden on everyday Americans.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest

Newsletter

Subscribe now to our weekly round-up and don't miss a beat with your favorite RS contributors and reporters, as well as staff analysis, opinion, and news promoting a positive, non-partisan vision of U.S. foreign policy.