Guantanamo's 10-second makeover

Apparently the fundamental victims at Guantanamo are female and minority guards - not the detainees.

    Protesters dressed as Guantanamo Bay prisoners take part in an anti-war demonstration [Reuters]
    Protesters dressed as Guantanamo Bay prisoners take part in an anti-war demonstration [Reuters]

    It's multiple-choice time.

    Which of the following do you least associate with the word "victim"?

    A. Someone held without charge in an illegal prison.

    B. Someone held without charge in an illegal prison despite being cleared for release.

    C. Someone tortured and held without charge in an illegal prison despite being cleared for release.

    D. The prison guard.

    If you chose "D", the United States Southern Command (Southcom) has a bone to pick with you. Take a look at its 2015 posture statement, which includes a short section on everyone's favourite American penal colony: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    The statement was presented in March to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Marine Corps Commander General John F Kelly, who railed against "fabricated accusations of inhumane treatment and abuse" of Guantanamo inmates.

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    According to Kelly, "The only people not treated humanely or having their human rights protected are the guards, especially our female and minority ones, who find themselves in a challenging environment where they regularly confront verbal and physical abuse … by many detainees."

    'Rectal feeding' and rape

    Never mind that the extensive maltreatment of detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere was recently confirmed by none other than the US Senate itself, in its 6,000-plus page report on CIA torture.

    Of course, the torture-heavy itineraries of the CIA and friends had been documented long before the appearance of the mostly classified report. Operations ranged from your run-of-the-mill waterboarding sessions to more creative punishments involving Sesame Street songs.

    Several current Guantanamo Bay prisoners were previously subjected, at undisclosed locations, to "rectal feeding" - a process that has been likened to rape.

    And the analogy, it seems, applies even to force-feeding methods that don't involve the anus, such as those that have now been institutionalised at Guantanamo.

    Consider the description of "forced artificial feeding" provided by the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his seminal work on Soviet labour camps, "The Gulag Archipelago". The practice "has much in common with rape", he writes, entailing as it does a "violation of the victim's will: 'It's not going to be the way you want it, but the way I want it; lie down and submit'."

    Looking back over the highlights of the war on terror, one might quite reasonably assume that 'Humiliate thine enemy' is an official American battle mantra.


    The modern gulag

    In Southcom's view, ramming tubes down people's esophagi via their nostrils constitutes an example of the military's "dignified, humane, and lawful care and treatment of detainees" at Guantanamo.

    But there's a reason Guantanamo defence attorney David Nevin has denounced the facility as a "gulag torture centre". After all, what more concise description is there for a far-off network of secretive prison camps where a government tries to cover up its crimes with more crimes?

    In the modern gulag, sexual submission is a bit of a recurring literary theme; in July 2013, media outlets tripped over themselves to report that "Guantanamo's Secret Camp Loves 'Shades of Grey' Series" and "Guantanamo prisoners clamour for 'Fifty Shades of Grey'".

    This supposed revelation about the reading preferences of the "high-value detainees" interned at the clandestine Camp 7 complex was courtesy of US Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.), who shared his anthropological findings with The Huffington Post following an excursion to the base.

    The Miami Herald's indefatigable Carol Rosenberg, however, pointed out that the series in question is "prohibited" at the detention centre library, and phoned Moran to "ask … whether members of the US military were perhaps playing a practical joke on him".

    Fifty shades of Orientalism

    Moran stuck by his discovery, arguing that the alleged Fifty Shades obsession "demystifies" the detainees and "exposes them for who they actually are" - ie "not exactly holy warriors".

    Actually, forcible demystification says a lot about the people who practise it, and about the US establishment's reliance on Orientalist reductionism to explain - and thereby assert control over - the "Other".

    Looking back over the highlights of the war on terror, one might quite reasonably assume that "Humiliate thine enemy" is an official American battle mantra. Abu Ghraib comes to mind, as do much subtler scenarios. 

    Last year, Rosenberg described an experiment at Guantanamo in which female troops were assigned to positions requiring physical contact with detainees: "When one captive … refused to be touched by a female soldier, the military called in a special unit to move him using the detention centre's tackle-and-shackle technique."

    But the beauty of gender-based humiliation is that it can be done under the pretence of advancing gender equality, a concept that is - so the western narrative goes - flatly rejected by the Muslim world. Enter our civilising bombs.

    Only problem is, we don't treat women that well ourselves. And co-ed, equal-opportunity mass murder by the armed forces doesn't make the business any nobler.

    'Recurring ugliness'

    The New York Times' Thomas Friedman has written with glee about the "mind-bending experience" accorded the POWs at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, which Friedman - seasoned Orientalist that he is -was able to perceive just by looking at them.

    The alleged mental shake-up was the result of the POWs having gone from "living, as James Michener put it, 'in this cruel land of recurring ugliness, where only men were seen', and then suddenly being guarded by a woman with blond locks spilling out from under her helmet and an M16 hanging from her side".

    Given that the blond-locked warrior-goddess is still being objectified in Friedman's supposedly enlightened discourse - and her femininity effectively weaponised - it appears some other folks might need their minds bent, as well.

    Meanwhile, Southcom can argue until it's blue in the face that the fundamental victims at Guantanamo are female and minority guards who are allegedly subject to abuse by detainees. But this self-righteous profession of concern ignores a number of inconvenient truths, not least the epidemic of rape in the US military.

    It seems there might be better locations to start a war on discrimination and harassment than an illegal offshore detention facility that shouldn't exist in the first place.

    Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

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

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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