Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights

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Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights is a product of a January 2004 article by David Rose for Vanity Fair. Following the completion of his initial article and realizing the ramifications of what was happening at the United States detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Rose decided to continue his investigation and expand it into a book length treatment of the subject. The book is based primarily on interviews with British detainees who were captured in Afghanistan and handed over to American soldiers by Afghani warlords as well as interviews with both United States government officials presiding over Camp X-Ray and non-governmental organizations that have sought to improve the treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo.

Throughout his book, Rose argues that the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has irreparably harmed the United States so-called “war on terror” by abandoning many of the principles of human rights that the United States purports to honor and that Camp X-Ray is an absolute failure. On February 7, 2002 President Bush declared that prisoners held at Camp X-Ray had no legal status under the Geneva Conventions and that they were not prisoners of war but rather were “enemy combatants.” While many may be tempted to see this as the origin of the human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Rose’s book makes it clear that this was merely the date at which official violations of the Geneva Convention became policy — the decision to hold detainees at Guantanamo Bay was made because of the base’s ambiguous legal status. For Rose, this is a logical consequence of a policy of detention that was seriously flawed to begin with as few of the detainees were involved with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Instead, Rose describes detainees that were rounded up in mass arrests and those who were sold to the United States in exchange for $5,000 bounties paid by the United States for “terrorists” in Afghanistan.

With a flawed detention process, Rose reveals that the intelligence coming out of Guantanamo has been of little use to the United States government in its “war on terror.” What little detention that has come out of the base has been of the most general nature, describing possible attacks such as those on shopping malls, although as Rose points out, anyone with even the most minimal knowledge of consumerism in the United States would know that malls would be good targets. Rather than acknowledge that most of the 600 detainees held at Guantanamo were not guilty of any crimes, the United States has responded by stepping up interrogations and conducting them using beatings, sleep deprivation, denial of food, and other harsh techniques that violate the Geneva Conventions in order to force detainees into confessing. Rose’s interviews with detainees reveal many abuses during the interrogation process while interviews with US officials reveal the limited value of the “intelligence” gained at Guantanamo Bay.

While making few new revelations, Rose’s book is a useful work that consolidates much of the information available on Guantanamo and directs attention towards the topic, as detentions in Guantanamo have been largely forgotten amidst the almost weekly reports of new abuses relating to the detentions of individuals held by the United States in Iraq. Since the publication of the Guantanamo in late 2004, there have been several new documents released showing that the government authorized treatment techniques that violate the Geneva Conventions as well as the government’s attempts to create a legal framework for said treatment.

David Rose, Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights, (The New Press, 2004).

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Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance

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Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance is a scathing indictment of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and the United States quest for global dominance. As always, Chomsky brings an unparalleled knowledge of US foreign policy to the table and provides a detailed refutation of the idea that the United States’ actions are “humanitarian interventions” designed to protect the world from terrorism. Instead, Chomsky provides a plethora of information showing that most actions conducted by the United States are forms of state terrorism designed to maintain the United States’ position in the world at all costs.

Chomsky argues that President George W. Bush’s “new” “war on terror” is an extension of the policies undertaken during the Regan presidency. During the Regan administration, the United States government supported nefarious dictators, Islamic jihadists, and others as a way of confronting Regan’s “terrorists.” Chomsky cites numerous cases where these allies either committed great atrocities with the tacit approval of the U.S. government (East Timor and Colombia) or became “enemies” when they acted in a manner contrary to the United States’ wishes. Chomsky also discusses Regan’s elusive definition of terrorism where it was applied only to the actions of others and never the actions of the United States–just as is the case in Bush’s “war on terror.”

Taking the definition of terrorism presented in the U.S. legal code, Chomsky cites numerous examples of the United States engaging in terrorism in Cuba and Central America, demonstrated by the World Court’s condemnation of the United States for “unlawful use of force” (which Chomsky says is a synonym for international terrorism). With the continuity of officials between the two administrations, it is not much of a stretch to see the Bush administration’s foreign policy as a continuation of Reagan’s policies, but the Bush administration’s policy does differ in a significant way–it completely throws out any possibility that the United States might comply with international law, instead presenting a new legal justification through the new National Security Doctrine that states the United States has the right to act to maintain its position as the global superpower. However, the crux of the analysis is that the United States government’s position has been to secure its domination at all costs since 1950 and that US foreign policy must be seen within that context.

As with all of Chomsky’s works, Hegemony or Survival’s strengths are its meticulous documentation and readability. While the book does not offer anything “new” to most people coming from a perspective critical of the new US imperialism, it has plenty to offer liberal critics of the recent military actions against Iraq who saw them as just an isolated event.

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, (Metropolitan Books, 2003).

Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties

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This short book examining how post-September 11 anti-terrorism measures threaten our civil liberties is a part of Seven Stories’ Open Media Series. The book is a 138-page look at how the USA PATRIOT Act, passed without any serious debate in the House and Senate in October of 2001, undermines constitutional guarantees including free speech, due process, and many others.

While the first chapter has a few too many superlatives for my liking, describing the Constitution and the “Founding Fathers” as possessing a certain “genius,” the book is an excellent introduction to the problems inherent in the USA PATRIOT Act. Ms. Chang also briefly explains the wider historical context of past campaigns aimed at politicial dissent–something that is essential if one is to understand the USA PATRIOT Act. Among those topics, she covers the Sedition Act of 1798, the Espionage Act of 1917, and COINTELPRO in the 1960s and 1970s.

While most of this information is readily available on the Internet, it is nice to have it in a more readable printed format.

Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties, (Seven Stories Press, 2002).