It's official now: America has its mini-Gulag abroad. Last week, President Obama signed an executive order formalizing the system of indefinite detention of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. This formalization follows Obama's other executive order — issued more than two years ago — that promised to completely shut down the detention center by no later than Jan.22, 2010.
According to the Washington Post, "[a]dministration officials said the president is still committed to closing the prison." Really? When? The notorious Russian saying "когда рак на горе свистнет" ("when a crawfish will whistle on a hill") seems to be the most appropriate description of the timeline President Obama apparently has in mind.
The new executive order makes it almost certain that at least 48 of the 172 detainees currently at Guantanamo will remain there for the rest of their lives without being tried in court. The Post explains that the reason why they can't be prosecuted — neither in federal court nor even in the so-called military commissions ("troikas") — is "because evidentiary problems would hamper a trial." In plain English, that means that evidence against these people either doesn't exist or was extracted from them by torture. On the other hand, the detainees can't be released, either, because according to classified "intelligence assessments," they represent too serious a threat to U.S. national security to be let go home (or wherever the U.S. military grabbed them).
How is this different from the original system established by the Bush administration? Well, the brilliance of the recent executive order — and what supposedly makes the detention system "legal" now – is that the detainees will have periodic "reviews" of their cases. What stunning progress! Moreover, they will even have a right to hire private lawyers to represent themselves. The government won't pay for that, though, and the executive order is mum on the subject of where the money to cover detainees' legal expenses will come from.
Presidential judicial blessing notwithstanding, Guantanamo still retains the major feature of the "classic" Gulag: being a place where people can be thrown in and kept forever without their captors facing any legal — or, for that matter, moral — consequences. As the greatest Gulag builder of all times, Joseph Stalin, used to say: "Нет человека — нет проблемы" ("No person, no problem").
We are being told that "[t]he administration…has the legal authority to continue to hold all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay under the laws of war." That means that for as long as the United States considers itself as being at War on Terror — started and called this way by President Bush and then continued by President Obama under the euphemistic name "Overseas Contingency Operation" — we will be living under the laws of war.
The problem here is that we are always at war. We Americans just love wars, and when facing a problem, we always frame a solution in military terms. This is how we started the War on Poverty in 1964, and then declared two more wars, the War on Drugs and the War on Cancer, in 1971. Some 40+ years later, these wars still supposedly continue, but their outcomes are far from being victorious: approximately 14% (43.6 million) of Americans were living in poverty in 2009 and more than a half-million of our compatriots will die from cancer this year — and this number has not significantly decreased since the 1970s. And if someone believes that we have won the War on Drugs, this person should consider spending vacation on the U.S.-Mexican border.
If the record of prior achievements does predict future results, what reason do we have to believe that the Bush-Obama War on Terror will be any more successful? And yet, we are expected to live indefinitely under the laws of war.
The Guantanamization of President Obama (as part of further Bushenization of his national security policy) is actually good news for Russia. The Russians must not be shy to invoke Guantanamo every time U.S. politicians and the media discuss alleged violations of human rights in Russia. Don't like the fact that someone got 15 days in prison for repeated violations of public order? What about people sitting in prison for years – on allegations no one bothered to even present? Unhappy with the verdict in the second Khodorkovsky trial? Well, at least Khodorkovsky had a trial.
It's time to set the record straight.