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Normalizing Evil: The NY Times' Curious Take on the Gitmo Files

By       Message Chris Floyd     Permalink
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"It won't come with jackboots and book burnings, with mass rallies and fevered harangues. It won't come with "black helicopters" or tanks on the street. It won't come like a storm -- but like a break in the weather, that sudden change of season you might feel when the wind shifts on an October evening: everything is the same, but everything has changed. Something has gone, departed from the world, and a new reality has taken its place.

"As in Rome, all the old forms will still be there; legislatures, elections, campaigns -- plenty of bread and circuses for the folks. But the 'consent of the governed' will no longer apply; actual control of the state will have passed to a small group of nobles who rule largely for the benefit of their wealthy peers and corporate patrons.

"To be sure, there will be factional conflicts among this elite, and a degree of free debate will be permitted, within limits; but no one outside the privileged circle will be allowed to govern or influence state policy. Dissidents will be marginalized -- usually by 'the people' themselves. Deprived of historical knowledge by an impoverished educational system designed to produce complacent consumers, not thoughtful citizens, and left ignorant of current events by a media devoted solely to profit, many will internalize the force-fed values of the ruling elite, and act accordingly. There will be little need for overt methods of control.

"The rulers will often act in secret; for reasons of 'national security,' the people will not be permitted to know what goes on in their name. Actions once unthinkable will be accepted as routine: government by executive fiat, the murder of 'enemies' selected by the leader, undeclared war, torture, mass detentions without charge, the looting of the national treasury, the creation of huge new 'security structures' targeted at the populace. In time, all this will come to seem 'normal,' as the chill of autumn feels normal when summer is gone."

The new normality is here, and is being entrenched even further, every day, by the drone-wielding, war-surging, torturer-defending Continuer-in-Chief of this brutal imperial system. Obama is doubtless reading the package with a big smile on his face, as he watches the Times scurry to justify his wholesale adoption of the Bush-Cheney gulag mindset. And how many "progressives" will now seize on the Times' take to acquit their noble champion for betraying his promises on Gitmo? ("See, Obama was right: ya can't let those monsters loose after all!") Keeping Gitmo open -- indefinitely -- will now become the new "centrist" position. And those who felt a bit wiggly about their champion's failure in this regard can -- what else? -- move on, and fight wholeheartedly for his re-election.

The myth lives on ... even as the chill of autumn turns into a long, endless winter.

2. Another View

But while the sanitary engineers at the NY Times work hard to keep the American people as ignorant as possible about the goings-on at Gitmo, those unfortunate wretches living outside the Gates of Eden are being given a much more unvarnished look at the truth. The Guardian, which was also given access to the files, goes beyond the regurgitation of imperial spin to give us a portrait of the system, warts and all. Below are some of the "insights" gleaned by the Guardian from the save trove examined -- or not examined -- by the Times:

"The US military dossiers, obtained by the New York Times and the Guardian, reveal how, alongside the so-called 'worst of the worst,' many prisoners were flown to the Guanta'namo cages and held captive for years on the flimsiest grounds, or on the basis of lurid confessions extracted by maltreatment. The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or enemy fighters, than on extracting intelligence.

"Among inmates who proved harmless were an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim. The old man was transported to Cuba to interrogate him about 'suspicious phone numbers' found in his compound. The 14-year-old was shipped out merely because of 'his possible knowledge of Taliban ... local leaders.'

"The documents also reveal ... Almost 100 of the inmates who passed through Guanta'namo are listed by their captors as having had depressive or psychotic illnesses. Many went on hunger strike or attempted suicide.

"A number of British nationals and residents were held for years even though US authorities knew they were not Taliban or al-Qaida members. One Briton, Jamal al-Harith, was rendered to Guanta'namo simply because he had been held in a Taliban prison and was thought to have knowledge of their interrogation techniques. The US military tried to hang on to another Briton, Binyam Mohamed, even after charges had been dropped and evidence emerged he had been tortured.

"US authorities relied heavily on information obtained from a small number of detainees under torture. They continued to maintain this testimony was reliable even after admitting that the prisoners who provided it had been mistreated.

"...The files also detail how many innocents or marginal figures swept up by the Guanta'namo dragnet because US forces thought they might be of some intelligence value. One man was transferred to the facility 'because he was a mullah, who led prayers at Manu mosque in Kandahar province, Afghanistan ... which placed him in a position to have special knowledge of the Taliban.' US authorities eventually released him after more than a year's captivity, deciding he had no intelligence value. Another prisoner was shipped to the base 'because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khowst and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver."

There is much more in the larger package offered by the Guardian. The paper also offers some telling comments by Julian Glover:

"Let them read the documents. Let them try to tell us after that (as some still do, even now) that the Afghan war was fought well, and fought morally; that Guanta'namo was a limited and necessary evil; that there was nothing that amounted to torture; that the prisoners stolen from across the world were almost all fanatics; and that it was necessary for democratic states to excuse themselves from the rule of law in order to save it.

"'If you could only know what we can know, you would understand that what we are doing is right,' our leaders used to assure us. Well now we really do know -- we have the documents, we have the transcripts of interviews with former prisoners, we have everything it takes to understand the nasty story of Guanta'namo, exposed today in 759 leaked documents containing the words of the people who ran the place. And it is obvious that we should have seen through the evasions from the start.

"The leaked files ... reveal horror that lies only partly in the physical things that were done to inmates -- the desperate brutality of heated isolation cells, restraining straps and forced interrogation. Such things are already grimly familiar and have been widely condemned, and perhaps for the 172 inmates who remain in Camp Delta despite President Obama's promise to close it, they continue in some lesser form. Worse things have been done in war, not least by us British, as emerging evidence from the campaign against the Mau Mau in Kenya should remind us.

"But what is given new prominence by these latest Guanta'namo files is the cold, incompetent stupidity of the system: a system that tangled up the old and the young, the sick and the innocent. A system in which to say you were not a terrorist might be taken as evidence of your cunning. A system designed less to hand out justice than to process and supply information from inmates, as if they were not humans but items of digital data in some demented storage machine programmed always to reject the answer 'No, I was not involved.' The clinical idiocy of this dreadful place is the most chilling thing of all, since it strips away even the cynical but persuasive defence: it was harsh but it worked and it kept the world safe.

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)

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