In March 2007, Karen Greenberg reported on a visit she had made to the war-on-terror prison camp at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and what it felt like to be distinctly offshore of American justice. She began that piece this way: “Several weeks ago, I took the infamous media tour of the facilities at Guantánamo. From the moment I arrived on a dilapidated Air Sunshine plane to the time I boarded it heading home, I had no doubt that I was on a foreign planet or, at the very least, visiting an impeccably constructed movie set. Along with two European colleagues, I was treated to two-days-plus of a military-tour schedule packed with site visits and interviews (none with actual prisoners) designed to ‘make transparent’ the base, its facilities, and its manifold contributions to our country’s national security.”
In my introduction to that piece, I wrote an initial paragraph that, I think, still catches the essence of American justice at Gitmo in those years:
“Once upon a time, our offshore prison at Guantánamo was the sort of place where even an American National Guardsman, only pretending to be a recalcitrant prisoner ‘extracted’ from a cell for training purposes, could be beaten almost senseless. This actually happened to 35-year-old ‘model soldier’ Sean Baker, who had been in Gulf War I and signed on again immediately after the World Trade Center went down. His unit was assigned to Guantánamo and he volunteered to be just such a ‘prisoner,’ donning the requisite orange uniform on January 24, 2003. As a result of his ‘extraction’ and brutal beating, he was left experiencing regular epileptic-style seizures 10 to 12 times a day. (And remember the Immediate Reaction Force team of MPs that seized him, on finally realizing that he wasn’t a genuine prisoner, broke off their assault before finishing the job.)”
Greenberg ended her report then this way: “Those who fail to reproduce the official narrative are not welcome back. ‘Tell it the wrong way and you won’t be back,’ one of our escorts warns me over lunch.”
You won’t be surprised to learn that she’s never been back. In addition to her early book on the nightmare that became Guantánamo, however, she’s returned to the subject at TomDispatch for years and here she is again, more than two decades after the first prisoner arrived there. Both of us can only hope that it finally is the last time. Tom
Will America’s Forever Prison Finally Close on Biden’s Watch?
As of December 8, 2022, Guantánamo Bay detention facility -- a prison offshore of American justice and built for those detained in this country's never-ending Global War on Terror -- has been open for nearly 21 years (or, to be precise, 7,627 days). Thirteen years ago, I published a book, The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days. It told the story of the military officers and staff who received the prison's initial detainees at that U.S. naval base on the island of Cuba early in 2002. Like the hundreds of prisoners that followed, they would largely be held without charges or trial for years on end.
Ever since then, time and again, I’ve envisioned writing the story of its ultimate closure, its last days. Today, eyeing the moves made by the Biden administration, it seems reasonable to review the past record of that prison's seemingly never-ending existence, the failure of three presidents to close it, and what if anything is new when it comes to one of the more striking scenes of ongoing injustice in American history.Read More