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Guantánamo’s Darkest Secret (newyorker.com)
182 points by matt4077 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments





Excellent piece. It's positively shocking to see in such minute detail just how quickly, easily, and completely the entire executive branch was able to normalize such obviously illegal and inhumane acts.

What is the appropriate response to the illegal and inhumane acts that precipitated the executive branch’s own misdeeds?

Where to start? How about reality:

1. Victims of crimes do not get to enact in-kind retribution against the perpetrators. Welcome to Western criminal justice since before the US split off from England. 2. Not everyone in Guantanamo had anything to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda (some even are innocent because the US Military & Intelligence services sometimes do make mistakes). Does having a crime committed against the US in the past now entitle them to do whatever to whomever for all time? If so, does this rule get to be applied outside the US or is the US special? 3. Legally reprisal is only allowed for the purpose of getting the adversary to obey the laws of armed conflict. It cannot be taken for revenge, spite or punishment.

Or basic morality we teach children? 2 wrongs don't make a right. Or more eloquently put by MLK: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."


To act legally. Two wrongs don't make a right.

There is no crime for which torture is an acceptable punishment.

So then where is the line? The executive branch is charged with prosecuting all criminal behavior. What’s the minimum act you would consider illegal and/or inhumane enough to justify an illegal response?

As far as I know the "inmates" haven't even had a trial, so why would the executive branch have a right to enact punishment?

Incredible piece. I have lots of thoughts about US foreign policy and the government's hypocrisy, but on a lighter note, this passage jumped out at me:

> "Wood suffered a splitting headache from caffeine withdrawal. “Out here, I’m probably only drinking seven or eight coffees per day,” he told me. (During the layover in Casablanca, he had drunk a Red Bull and twenty-two shots of espresso.)

That's an insane amount of caffeine!


It's so satisfying a read. That's the great paradox of free speech I think. Somehow by reading this, I am more inclined to endorse the excesses of American exceptionalism than wholeheartedly criticism them. Even if it's all hogwash, the mere sight of this lavish helping of self-directed criticism more than enamors me to their cause, whatever it may be.

Free speech may just be a more effective social control mechanism than democracy.


As Frankie Boyle put it,

> Not only will America go into your country and kill all your people, they'll come back twenty years later and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad.


I am more inclined to endorse the excesses of American exceptionalism

The US is not only not exceptional in this regard, it's not even the freest country in terms of press:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_Freedom_Index#Rankings_a...


I never said "appetite for self-criticism" equaled free and even handed. In fact, I think it is opposite.

How can you take that seriously? It has UK above US.

The above comment is being downvoted, but the UK actually arrests people for offensive speech. 625 arrests in 2010, for instance. [0]

I'd note the caveat that "aggressive" speech is included, but it also is simply meant to cover offensive speech. Maybe someone from the UK can chime in on whether section 127 is used for actual crime-inciting speech, or whether it's handled under a separate law.

Edit: And this is being silently downvoted, too...

[0] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/arrests-for-offensive-...


Subsection 4 is probably most relevant to this discussion, which I believe is effectively a press exemption:

“Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service”


So there are freedoms of speech that are limited to the press? A collection of individuals in a corporation has more rights to speech than an individual alone?

Thank you for making that distinction, and based on the interpretation of "a programme service" you may well be correct.

I wonder whether this brings up a separate issue, as the post I responded to was rather rightly questioning how you can have limited rights to free speech and supposedly have a free press. If that is indeed a compatible notion, it seems worrying in a different way.


Press freedom index methodology:

The report is partly based on a questionnaire[3] which asks questions about pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and infrastructure. The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media.

--Presumably the evaluation 'downvotes' the independence and self-censorship of US media?


You do not need to be offensive and hatefull to make a point. This might not be the US way, but it does work.

The problem with this is that offense and hate is often little more than a matter of perspective. Let's imagine I say "it is self evident that women should be treated equally to men." This, from 'our' perspective, is probably about as controversial as saying that water is wet. Now let's shift perspective just slightly. And I'm in a stadium speaking to an audience in Saudi Arabia, and say the same thing. I now just insulted their religion, their culture, and their worldview. For some my comment would be edging towards outright heresy (as I just stated that overt contradictions of their religious texts are "self evident"), which is punishable by death. And while Saudi Arabia is the ever low hanging fruit, this would be comparably true for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people across the world.

It's easy to say 'well it's obvious that your statement is not offensive or hateful' but in doing so, you're doing little more than projecting your values. Many people would vehemently disagree. So who gets to decide what's offensive or hateful? Without free speech the answer there easy - whoever is in power. And what they're going to decide is, at some point, going to end up being abused to their own benefit. And even without abuse it's often going to be little more than an exercise in entrenching a status quo. One fun example there is that Britain still has a law on the books such that advocating for the abolition of the monarchy is technically punishable by life in prison. Quite progressive though, it used to be death! [1]

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason_Felony_Act_1848


That's awesome, thank you for that. It's refreshing to see cool and clear head in the midst of all these topics that are too easy to trigger people in the amygdala.

That they can't decide what you "need" is the point of free speech.

I agree, but I actually think your phrasing hints at perhaps missing the point. I came to an interesting conclusion about individual rights recently. You are not granted them because You are a specific You, and You are that awesome. Rather, it is someone else who is denied denying you rights, not because they would make the wrong call in your specific case, but because in aggregate, any authority making such calls would make a certain number of mistakes.

This is completely separate from that authority being right or wrong, or the individual granted rights being right or wrong.

People get upset and offended about "being told what they need", they think an abridgement of rights is a personal affront to them and their ego, but I don't think it's actually about any of that. It's more a recognition that any body set up to decide will sometimes (not even always, or most of the time, but sometimes) be wrong. Not personal, but meaningful in aggregate.

Apologies if you already recognize this argument. I feel like US political discussions tend to have other subtexts around these issues, which set me on a bit of a tangent.


The point of rights is they belong to individuals. It /is/ a personal affront but it isn't of ego but territoriality and justly so - denial of them is a violence delivered upon them.

There may be limits in practicality in ability to claim them but it doesn't make it less of an affront any more than inability to escape a life of literal slavery is okay because the slave is physically incapable of breaking their chains and killing every last master and overseer.


The slavery example doesn't resonate with me. I am not sure what you are trying to say.

But in everything else I would say you seem a little too attached to yourself as a decider. You are a stand-in for literally any other person. Hence everyone else shares the same rights. The whole thing is a legal approximation of fairness. But we get mixed up and call it our identity.

The goal shouldn't necessarily be to be the best individual You are because of how awesome that is to be You. We are a society. A fair society functions well valuing individual rights because it works out in the aggregate.

But I am going too far in a tangent. Enjoy your day.


It isn't an attachment and it has nothing to do with individual virtue but rights and ownership. If it is infringed it is stolen and a travesty. They are meant to be guarded and fought for jealously.

That you cannot see rights as belonging to people fundamentally is a disturbing mentality - for it suggests throwing it all away whenever it is expedient. Which is no way for an ethical or moral framework.

Which has a definition so open to interpretation that killing you to "donate" your organs would be justifiable or taken further turned into very expensive furniture it would be justified because your flayed corpse embedded in plastic would be worth a billion to some depraved collector. Don't worry about the arbitrary deaths - all were done by lottery for the benefit of the rest of society.


I am not advocating taking away rights, or murdering people for their organs. If you are so quick to get angry and compare things to slavery and murder, perhaps look at why that is.

I'm sorry what?

If ever there were a glaring example of the blind extremes of American exceptionalism this comment is it. Exactly which countries are you comparing the US to that would not tolerate similar "lavish helpings of self-directed criticism"?


> Exactly which countries are you comparing the US to

If one were to take that kind of comment at face value then one would have to assume that those making them consider Eritrea and Burma to be the kind of benchmark a country should compare itself to. Of course, the real background is just ignorance of how well other developed countries function.


Obvious answer, but China wouldn’t be too crazy about it

Malaysia and Indonesia would be other prime examples.

Singapore jailed someone for a Facebook post criticizing the amount of money the government spent on the special olympics.

No, you're okay, you just didn't get it the first time, I'm fine with that.

I never said 'tolerate', and I think it's more promotion that tolerance being the plan. The Americans have really become experts at strategic self-criticism.

I remember learning about Italian Commedia dell'arte and how the satire of power was a cathartic mechanism of control, yielding an outlet for pent up feelings, and assisting in the maintenance of the status quo by directing the desire for change to the outlet, rather than to actual change. Could be related, just saying.


This is exactly it. These articles offer an ultimately vacant catharsis in place of change. Afterwards, the type of people who read the New Yorker can go about their business, feeling full of rectitude and seriousness and even, perversely, a kind of pride in their country.

So, offline outrage culture ?

I still don't get your point. Many countries have good investigation press and LOTS of criticism towards their government and policies. How is the US any special in that regard?

I don't think the OP is being genuine. Their point is an intensely cynical one. Basically implying that the American system which allows for cruelty abroad and then also allows revealing expsoses of that cruelty is well designed for maintaining international power.

They are noting America's exceptionalism at self manipulation. They are sardonically praising the Machiavelian nature of our society.


> Basically implying that the American system which allows for cruelty abroad and then also allows revealing expsoses of that cruelty is well designed for maintaining international power.

Except that the U.S. is losing out to China which builds out physical infrastructure-- everything from highways to supplying the digital chips, devices and firmware that provide internet access and control electrical grids. That system is vastly superior for asserting international power than OP's alleged system of U.S. "do-cruelty-then-expose-cruelty." (It's also more sustainable in the long run as evidenced by the Iraq war vs. say, China's current influence in Africa.)

Given that reality, such journalistic exposés are perpetuating a system that causes the U.S.'s sphere of influence to decrease relative to another superpower. At the same time, the dominance of the U.S. "do-cruelty-then-expose" system in political circles makes it difficult to adapt and use soft power where it would be more efficacious geopolitically.

The more exposés we get, the faster this vicious cycle diminishes the ability of the American system to use cruelty to gain power.

Therefore I must conclude that OP supports these exposés as a way to decrease the reach of the U.S.'s cruelty.

I don't necessarily support this cynicism train-- was just curious where it went.


Have some mercy here cause now I'm in the weird position of having to not just interpret but argue the OP's point.

I think the OP's point is that these exposes are a kind of release that allows those who would otherwise agitate for change do nothing because they get a sense of justice merely from reading such a piece. So the OP is expressing a sort of smug disdain for 'The New Yorker' here because they are complicit in easing the America conscience.

I personally do not believe this. I think this kind of breaks down because this creates a weird damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If the media does publish expose journalism then their creating catharsis that aids American human rights violations. If they don't report these things then citizens don't know there's anything to protest or attempt to change.

Perhaps the OP is just generally fatalistic, I don't know.


Just to be clear, I'm not saying "American is exceptional" in its press freedom. "American exceptionalism" is a concept (unrelated to press, I think it's origin is a political doctrine) that I'm referring to here. Strangely I think a lot of people here took that phrase "American exceptionalism" to mean US press is best in world. Could be a non-native English speaker thing, or could just be that the concept of AE is not that widely known (which if true, would be another sort of satire about AE, nice :)).

Huh? Can you please state your argument clearly?

if you're having trouble with reading comprehension and would like to know more, go back and read it, summarize it as you understand it and then ask specifically which part is unclear to you. do you understand that?

>A job posting depicts life as an intelligence officer in Guantánamo Bay as “a rewarding challenge with incredible surroundings”—sunsets, beaches, iguanas, pristine Caribbean blue. “After a hustled day of tackling a myriad of issues and directly contributing to the global war on terrorism,” it reads, “fun awaits.” Officers could partake in pottery classes, paintball, rugby, tennis, and softball, or exercise in several pools and gyms. The local dive shop offered gear and certifications for sailing, water-skiing, snorkelling, scuba diving, and more: “No experience, no problem. . . . Relaxing is easy.”

>In practice, many military-police officers killed time by watching movies and getting drunk at the Tiki Bar; they also took flights to Afghanistan, to pick up more detainees.


>> excesses of American exceptionalism

Who does the labor to maintain and sustain Guantanamo? Not Americans, foreign contract labor working below American minimum wage. They may stay there for 3 years to try to save $300 to go back home and start a business or for much longer to earn an American green card. Somehow, their subservient role often translates into providing undocumented personal services for their American bosses. With the American interrogators living a class-privileged life, the base is what America itself is becoming, an experiment to observe the grievously absurd manifestations of an irrational social structure.


> Who does the labor to maintain and sustain Guantanamo? Not Americans, foreign contract labor working below American minimum wage.

And yet, the article cites it costs $10M per year to keep one detainee at Guantanamo. Where's all that money going?


The torture is quite unnecessary and not enough people know about it. It’s obvious they torture prisoners there, why else keep it so secret?

We do need democracy, informed democracy. The people need to be able to tell their government not to do things like this.


"Free speech may just be a more effective social control mechanism than democracy."

There is no evidence that those two concepts can be mutually exclusive. But a lot of evidence to the contrary.


Are you implying that the world is better off having global powers that have free speech and self-directed criticism which is why you look to endorse American exceptionalism?

Good god. This story is fucking terrifying.

Crazy descriptions of torture but also a very touching human story with the guard.

Somehow, you being surprised by this, actually makes me a bit uneasy.

How can you not know that stuff like this is happening?


The same way anybody can not know anything. There are a million things in this world to pay attention to, people are bound to miss stuff.

"His mother dated a string of alcoholics and addicts, and took the children to an evangelical church on Sundays..."

Makes little sense to me. I've gone to Evangelical churches for decades and can't imagine this behavior. Do we have addicts and alcoholics? Yes, of course. Do the single women flock towards them, one after the other? Not once in my observation. Evangelicals generally frown upon drinking (and drugs, of course.) There are some who imbibe or use on a regular basis, but these are generally few and far in between. (Not judging, just saying-- who would want to sit in a pew and condemn their own life choices? It's much easier and better on your psyche to go find a church that isn't so uptight about these things. The Catholics, for example, regularly hold parties where alcohol is served. Much easier!) It just seems to me that the New Yorker is trying to paint a picture. I wish they'd stick to straight-up story telling without the gratuitous swipes.


USA giving love as always! I hope US citizens can discriminate between their politicians so all these genocides and concentration camps systems don't perpetuate anymore. Just look at central/south-america and the damage your politicians and militaries have done. Maybe USA is the most hated country in the world, and you can make something to stop that.

[dead]


Are you saying that the second 'a' shouldn't have an acute accent? It's present in the original article's title, and the wikipedia article. Though AFAICT the convention is that the detention center/base name doesn't have accented letters.

Man, The New Yorker just churns my processor, making the fans crank up. What is it doing, mining Bitcoin? (I'm in FF 60.4, browsing with tracking protection.)

navigating the web without Firefox + ublockOrigin is like sex without condoms. lots of people do it, it's great, but you should know better by now.

Except navigating the web with an ad blocker makes it significantly more enjoyable.

Blocking these domains seems to make it not spin up the CPU/GPU. https://i.imgur.com/Aq8qT0c.png

Isn't it's darkest secret the fact that we can't shut it down because the inmates don't want to face civilian trial in NYC and they have nowhere else to go?

This looks relevant:

« In June, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo detainees could challenge the grounds for their detention. It became fashionable for high-profile corporate-law firms to represent Guantánamo clients, pro bono, but many detainees rejected representation, because they thought it was a ploy to lend legitimacy to an unjust detention. »


Where did you hear they don't want to face civilian trial and even if true where did you hear they could refuse to have a trial and also where did you hear they would be tried in new york?

I believe it is the US Gov who doesn't want them to go to trial due to lack of evidence / evidence from torture is not usable for all that has gone on to come out in a more public forum

Sorry if that sounds cynic, but maybe not all of them have full confidence in the US justice system?

well unfortunately the US justice system is the one they are going to have to deal with. you don't really get a preference in such things.

It is my understanding that almost the exact opposite of this is true.

Nah because if they did that it would give them rights.



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