Far away in Cuba there is a small plot of land leased by the US government from the Cuban state. The rent is minimal, derisory even; and the Cuban government treats it with suitable contempt. For much of the last 5 years, around 650 alleged terrorists, the ‘worst of a very bad lot’, in the words of US Vice-President Cheney, have resided at Guantanamo. Their degradation is deemed to be essential to the ‘life of the nation’. These men, and boys, ‘the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth’, according to former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, are so terrifying that they must exist ‘beyond’ the reaches of the law. Those ncarcerated at Guantanamo are, quite literally, outlaws. As one who purports to defend this state of affairs confirms, they are pirates and bandits and nihilists.
Guantanamo is a ‘law-free zone’, a semiotic for the extra-judicial ‘war on terror’, a visceral expression of a nation that is troubled, not just by feelings of impotence and rage, but of guilt too. We are, once again, adrift amongst the images and the metaphors. In the discourse of terrorism, as we have already noted, it is always thus. The law vanishes and in its place comes linguistic and metaphysical allusion. In the context of Guantanamo, there are lots of allusions to gulags and concentration camps. And lots of references to Kafka too. US military and State Department officials can be found talking about the need to conceptualise a ‘vanishing point’ of the law, or to locate a ‘legal equivalent of outer space’.
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