Forums Home : The Guantanamobile Project :
What is particularly disturbing about the public response to Guantanamo – though it comes across in only a few of the interviews here (suggesting that they are not entirely representative – passers-by who speak to interviewers are, after all, a self-selected group)– is the oft-expressed belief that everyone at Gitmo is a terrorist and that they deserve to be treated badly. This response to Gitmo seems to reflect lack of knowledge of the most basic foundations of our legal system – right to a hearing, innocent until proven guilty, the ban on cruel and unusual punishment, etc. My sense, too, is that this attitude is not directed only to foreigners; after all, many Americans tend to feel the same way about domestic prison inmates – they’re in there for a reason, and they deserve whatever they get - though at least in that case there has usually been a trial first. In a situation of basic ignorance of law and history, and against a background of fear, it’s not so hard to convince people that certain people are the enemy and don’t deserve any rights. This project, which provides an excellent overview of some of the issues surrounding Gitmo, could inject some badly-needed civic awareness into the discussion.
Guantanamo has been compared to a Nazi camp or Stalinist gulag. The comparison is of course terribly flawed: obviously, no one’s being massacred or exterminated. And even though this government has tried hard to assume the authoritarian power to hold people at will, we remain a functioning democracy where people can and do criticize and take the government to court. The fact that military lawyers have been active in the cases against the government is a really impressive indication that this country’s institutions are still functioning effectively. The pressure of courts, media, and public opinion have opened Gitmo to scrutiny and have led to significant changes in how inmates are treated. Still, it is also true that none of the favorable court decisions has yet forced the government to free a single Gitmo detainee. If we’re going to be outraged by faulty comparisons, we should be equally indignant at the comments by some politicians that Guantanamo detainees supposedly eat well – as though this were somehow relevant to the fact that they have been held for nearly four years without access to the outside world, let alone hearings or trials.
- Belinda Cooper, New York, 09.14.2005