Identity, guilt, and Guantanamo

An article worth noting by the routinely excellent Gary Younge on the US and Guantanamo pulls together some intriguing historical threads.

First, from a American arrested for spying in Hungary in the Stalin era, Robert Vogeler, who was held in a cell in which he slept on boards suspended inches above water, with the light always on, and banging on the walls to prvent him from sleeping. Just a matter of time before you confess, he said, afterwards, but the confession was not about a conventional matter of guilt:

“To judge from the way our scripts were written,” wrote Vogeler shortly after his forced confession, “it was more important to establish our allegorical identities than to establish our ‘guilt’. Each of us in his testimony was obliged to ‘unmask’ himself for the benefit of the [Soviet-led] press and radio.”

The second site on a ‘grand tour’ is Algeria, where, as Simone de Beauvoir observed, discussion of ‘abuse’ at he time of the French atrocities, was futile:

“To protest in the name of morality against ‘excesses’ or ‘abuses’ is an error that hints at active complicity. There are no ‘abuses’ or ‘excesses’ here, simply an all-pervasive system.”

And finally, to a cnversation about Nuremberg – help between two present day US military lawyers:

Colonel Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo’s military commissions, recalled a meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, who oversees Guantánamo’s tribunal process, about the forthcoming trials of the detainees. “[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time,” said Davis. Davis then pointed out that the handful of acquittals at Nuremberg had given the proceedings a sense of legitimacy and credibility that across-the-board convictions never would have.

‘I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process,” Davis told the Nation. “At which point, [Haynes’s] eyes got wide and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals. We’ve got to have convictions.'”

Read the whole article, if you’re interested in Guantanamo, or even if you’re not. Younge lets Vogeler have the last word: “Every individual American should realise that what happened to me could happen to anybody.”

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