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Karen Greenberg, America’s Prison from Hell

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Yes, many of its prisoners, swept up in the early days of the war on terror, had committed no hostile acts against this country or its allies (55% of them, according to one study). And yes, they were dressed in those unforgettable orange jumpsuits that ISIS would later so horrifically put on its own prisoners before slaughtering them. And yes, from the beginning, the treatment they received at Guantánamo, sometimes after having been brutally tortured in CIA “black sites” elsewhere, was a nightmare all its own.

If you doubt it, just consider Sean Baker’s experience. A “model” American soldier who had been in the first Gulf War and volunteered again right after 9/11, he was assigned to the new prison as a military policeman. He would then be ordered to play an uncooperative prisoner in an orange jumpsuit so that the guards could practice on him and promptly would have the you-know-what beaten out of him by those very same guards, who mistook him for an actual prisoner, leaving him experiencing epileptic-style seizures 10 to 12 times a day. Honestly, what else do you need to know about the nature of that all-American site of injustice which just experienced its 20th anniversary and, as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg suggests today, despite the efforts of two of our last three presidents, shows few signs of actually closing down?

It’s already been forever — and forever it may forever be. In fact, Greenberg herself began writing about that grim prison in Cuba for TomDispatch almost 15 years ago after being given a carefully orchestrated media tour of its grounds. No matter how limited that tour was, it was obvious to her what a nightmare this country had created offshore of American justice. As she typically wrote at the time, “Even the less restrictive quarters for ‘compliant’ inmates belied any notion that Guantánamo is merely a holding facility for those awaiting charges or possessing useful information.” And so, of course, it has remained all these years, a site of horror that captures the nightmare of a global war on terror that’s proved all-too-disastrous — in its results (over its 20 years, terror groups on the planet doubled), the casualties it’s caused, the tens of millions it’s displaced, the trillions of dollars spent on it that could have been used so much more profitably here at home, and the disastrous way, as I’ve written elsewhere, it’s helped “unbuild” this country. Without Guantánamo, those grim CIA black sites, and the disastrous wars that went with them, we might be living in a very different American world and Donald Trump might be an insignificant bankruptee and conman.

So, 20 years after it was established, let Greenberg, whose latest book is Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump, tell you the latest in the (sadly) never-ending tale of the war-on-terror prison, itself a terror of the first order, that was built at Guantánamo Bay in 2002. Tom

Guantánamo’s Forever Elusive Endgame

Will We “Celebrate” Its 30th Anniversary?

It's now more than 20 years later and that American offshore symbol of mistreatment and injustice, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is still open. In fact, as 2021 ended, New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg, who has covered that notorious prison complex since its first day, reported on the Pentagon’s plans to build a brand-new prefab courthouse at that naval base. It's intended to serve as a second, even more secret facility for holding the four remaining trials of war-on-terror detainees and is scheduled to be ready “sometime in 2023.”

Close Guantánamo? Not soon, it seems. The cost of that new construction is a mere $4 million, a relatively minor sum compared to the $6 billion dollars and counting that detention and trial operations had claimed by 2019, according to the estimate of one whistleblower.

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William Astore, Red Storm Rising — Again

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We — all of us on this planet — now live in one world and only one. Somehow, this remains hard for so many of us to grasp. Yet it’s been true since at least August 6, 1945, when a single atomic bomb obliterated the city of Hiroshima and, lest there were any doubts, three days later, a second one did the same thing to Nagasaki. From that moment on, no one should have doubted that we were, or would at least soon be, capable of obliterating not just two cities, but the whole planet. In the years since, as nuclear arsenals have been built to gigantic proportions and such weaponry has spread to nine countries, we’ve learned more about just how devastating such a conflict between great (or even regional) powers could be. After all, a significant regional nuclear exchange would create not just staggering global death and destruction but a nuclear winter of almost unimaginable proportions for all of us.

More recently, of course, it’s become apparent in a second way that all of us exist on one all-too-destructible orb in space. As 2022 begins and the news arrives that the last seven years have been the seven hottest in recorded history; as the planet’s oceans continue to absorb the equivalent in heat terms of “seven Hiroshima atomic bombs detonating each second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year”; as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are once again rising, not falling; as the damage from flooding, heat, fire, and drought only increases, both immeasurably and measurably, it shouldn’t be that hard to grasp that the climate emergency we face is the potential equivalent of the wholesale nuclear destruction of the planet, just on a vastly different time scale.

And yes, as the so-called leaders of this world of ours in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing become absorbed in who controls Ukraine and in an intensifying replay of the Cold War of another age in Asia; as nuclear arsenals are built up, not down; as the changeover to alternative energy systems goes all too slowly, it’s obvious that we’re a distinctly self-destructive species. It’s in that context that you should read the latest from former Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore, who now runs the Bracing Views blog, on his own once-upon-a-time military encounter with doomsday and what might be drawn from that grim experience. Tom

Only Fools Replay Doomsday

The Cold War, Reborn and Resurgent

In the early 1960s, at the height of America’s original Cold War with the Soviet Union, my old service branch, the Air Force, sought to build 10,000 land-based nuclear missiles. These were intended to augment the hundreds of nuclear bombers it already had, like the B-52s featured so memorably in the movie Dr. Strangelove. Predictably, massive future overkill was justified in the name of "deterrence," though the nuclear war plan in force back then was more about obliteration. It featured a devastating attack on the Soviet Union and communist China that would kill an estimated 600 million people in six months (the equivalent of 100 Holocausts, notes Daniel Ellsberg in his book, The Doomsday Machine). Slightly saner heads finally prevailed -- in the sense that the Air Force eventually got “only” 1,000 of those Minuteman nuclear missiles.

Despite the strategic arms limitation talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the dire threat of nuclear Armageddon persisted, reaching a fresh peak in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan's presidency. At the time, he memorably declared the Soviet Union to be an “evil empire,” while nuclear-capable Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles were rushed to Europe. At that same moment, more than a few Europeans, joined by some Americans, took to the streets, calling for a nuclear freeze -- an end to new nuclear weapons and the destabilizing deployment of the ones that already existed. If only...

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Alfred McCoy, An Epochal Decline in American Global Power

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Wow! I’m amazed when I look back on the weeks since I first urged you to contribute to TD in return for a signed, personalized copy of historian Alfred McCoy’s new history of empires, To Govern the Globe! I knew he was popular and happen to think the world of his work myself. Still, I never expected that he would have to sign quite so many copies. Now, here we are in 2022 and below is his latest piece. He’s still willing to sign and personalize more copies of that remarkable book of his for anyone willing to give this site at least $100 ($150 if you live outside the U.S.). So, if the urge strikes you in this new year, just visit our donation page as always — and many thanks!  Tom]

Honestly, I wonder why (other than Covid-19) Americans aren’t out in the streets protesting. Oh wait, given that we’ve just “celebrated” the anniversary of January 6th and our world is alive with talk of coming violence against the government in those very streets, not to speak of rising extremism in the U.S. military and potential civil war, let me amend that slightly. I meant something else entirely. After all, like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration (with the Pentagon and Congress cheering it on) only continues to hike up the pressures for an ever-intensifying new Cold War with China, as Michael Klare reported at this site last week.

And yet here we Americans are, ready to fight it out over masking mandates and a “stolen” election, but not ready to offer a peep of protest as, for the second time in this century, this country heads off into the world all too aggressively armed to the teeth and ready for battle. And just in case you’ve forgotten, the last time around — you know, that Global War on Terror that involved the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — didn’t turn out particularly splendidly, did it? So why expect a new Cold War with China, the rising power on an endangered planet, with that old cold warrior Russia thrown in for good measure, to turn out any better?

Of course, when there’s so much else to argue about here in an ever more armed fashion, why even bother to consider this country’s global stance, no less protest as our collective fate is being decided elsewhere? However, if you do happen to have a passing few moments in this mad American world of ours, take a little break and check out the latest piece by TomDispatch regular and historian Alfred McCoy, author most recently of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. It offers an all-too-vivid look at an imperial American world on its way to hell in a handbasket, while Americans myopically pick at our wounds at home. It may be a new definition of what the end of empire really means in the twenty-first century (if we all even make it long enough to find out). Tom

Eurasia’s Ring of Fire

The Epic Struggle over the Epicenter of U.S. Global Power

Throughout 2021, Americans were absorbed in arguments over mask mandates, school closings, and the meaning of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Meanwhile, geopolitical hot spots were erupting across Eurasia, forming a veritable ring of fire around that vast land mass.

Let’s circle that continent to visit just a few of those flashpoints, each one suffused with significance for the future of U.S. global power.

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