Bagram, Obama's Gitmo

by Lisa Hajjar
published in MER260

On President Barack Obama’s second day in office, one of the three executive orders he signed was a commitment to close the detention facility on the naval base at Guantánamo Bay as soon as possible but no later than one year thence. An inter-agency task force headed by White House counsel Greg Craig was established to come up with a plan. The new administration did not anticipate that this step would be controversial because, at the time, closing Guantánamo had bipartisan support, including from former President George W. Bush and Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain. Bagram, the main US-controlled prison in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was being expanded -- like the war in that country.

Lies, Damned Lies and Plagiarizing "Experts"

by Darryl Li
published in MER260

The 9/11 Commission Report is the closest thing in print to an official narrative of the events that gave rise to the “war on terror.” In American political culture, the Commission embodied a trans-partisan act of knowledge creation, handing down a narrative meant to establish treasured national consensus. Also, the Commission acted as a filter trusted to use classified information in a manner that educated the public without jeopardizing national security.

Interventions

Interventions is a feature in Middle East Report Online offering critical reviews of important Middle East-related books, films and other cultural production. Click here for past Interventions articles.

Torture and the Future

by Lisa Hajjar | published May 2004

There is a popular belief that Western history constitutes a progressive move from more to less torture. Iron maidens and racks are now museum exhibits, crucifixions are sectarian iconography and scientific experimentation on twins is History Channel infotainment. This narrative of progress deftly blends ideas about “time,” “place” and “culture.” In the popular imagination, “civilized societies” (a.k.a. “us”) do not rely on torture, whereas those societies where torture is still common remain “uncivilized,” torture being both a proof and a problem of their enduring “backwardness.”

Interventions

Interventions is a feature in Middle East Report Online offering critical reviews of important Middle East-related books, films and other cultural production. Click here for past Interventions articles.

Beating a Slow, Stubborn Retreat at Guantanamo Bay

by Charles Schmitz | published May 2005

Just under a week after the collapse of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush issued Military Order 1 to establish principles for the “ detention, treatment and trial of certain non-citizens in the war against terrorism.” The order, promulgated on November 13, 2001, was the first step in the Bush administration’s careful crafting of the term “illegal combatant” to describe a nebulous third category of detainee outside the Geneva Conventions’ clear division of prisoners into either civilians or military personnel. “Illegal combatants” were not to be accorded the protections of either the international laws of war or the laws of the United States.

Shoring Up the National Security State

by Nina Farnia
published in MER259

Many expected the Obama administration to slow or altogether stop the growth of the national security state that its two predecessor administrations brought into being, but just the opposite has occurred. Prisoners are still held without charge at Guantánamo Bay; the Patriot Act is still the law; the administration has retained the use of rendition and protected state secrets with punitive vigor. President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all others combined. In key respects, indeed, the Obama administration has expanded and institutionalized the national security state.

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Washington Still Refuses to Learn an Obvious Lesson

by Chris Toensing | published June 6, 2011

Back in 2004, three years into the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission report made its debut to the gushing admiration of the Washington press corps. The report was everything that the mainstream media adores: bipartisan, devoid of divisive finger-pointing, full of conventional wisdom.

Take this pearl: “One of the lessons of the Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most brutal and repressive governments were often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.”

The Fateful Choice

by The Editors | published May 6, 2011

When 19 al-Qaeda hijackers attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the United States faced a strategic dilemma that was unique in magnitude, but not in kind. Terrorists had killed numerous civilians before, in the US and elsewhere, with and without state sponsorship. Al-Qaeda was not the first non-state actor to present no coherent demands alongside its propaganda of the deed or to have no single fixed address. Nor were Americans the first victims of unprovoked terrorist assault to set aside political differences, at least for a time, in search of a unified self-defense.

Getting It Wrong in Guantánamo

by Lisa Hajjar | published November 23, 2010

I was at Guantánamo Bay prison on Halloween. In a ghoulishly fitting coincidence, that was the same day a former child solider was convicted for war crimes for the first time since the end of World War II. Eight years and one day after Omar Khadr arrived at Guantánamo, his military commission case concluded with a plea-bargained sentence of eight more years.

Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was 15 on July 27, 2002, when US forces captured him in an Afghan village following a firefight. His father had sent him to Afghanistan the previous month to translate for an al-Qaeda operative.