While learning the history of the Guantánamo Naval base (GTMO), time and time again I’ve been struck by a sense of collective confusion and misinformation that has reappeared in the stories of people stationed at the base, as well as detainees and non-American workers who have lived there.
The base has often been used as a hasty solution to problems arising from inadequate immigration policies and the U.S. government’s lack of commitment or responsibility. The fact that GTMO’s appeal, and its selection for usage, is predicated by its “legal loophole” status is incredibly disturbing. It implies that the American justice system, the supposed model of sociopolitical order, is entirely expendable when the government decides so, and sends the message that Americans believe that our government is above every law on earth, including our own.
One question in particular has been recurring throughout our class discussions. Surely there must be other sites similar to Guantánamo where Americans are committing atrocities outside of any legal jurisdiction, all in the name of preserving democracy. Why are so many Americans willing to turn a blind eye to these events? Are we willing to accept the cost of maintaining our position as an international superpower and police force, or is it something more frighteningly apathetic—i.e., it hard for us to care if these events do not disturb our comfortable lifestyles or immediately impact our lives? Have we become desensitized to the sensational media, or is it because we aren’t demanding more transparency from our government? Do we even want to?
I realize these questions are not objective, but I believe they are worth asking. Within these discussions I would ideally like to involve members of the media who’ve reported on GTMO and politicians and military personnel who’ve influenced decisions in regards to the base. We often hear that actions are merely orders being carried out—orders issued by whom? Where does it begin?
By Laura Keller, Public History Program, Arizona State University
Arizona State University is participating in the Guantánamo Public Memory Project‘s National Dialogue and Traveling Exhibit. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery in December 2012 and traveling to 9 sites (and counting) across the country through at least 2014, the exhibit will explore GTMO’s history from US occupation in 1898 to today’s debates and visions for its future. The exhibit is being developed through a unique collaboration among a growing number of universities as a dialogue among their students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO.