Do you remember a few months ago hearing about a proposal floating around to build what would have essentially amounted to a little quaint unknown miniature city on an abandoned airfield at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba – to house federal judges and other personnel there for the sole purpose of trying detainees under the new laws of the Military Commissions Act? Ring a bell? Well, in any event, at a cost of potentially $125 million it was swiftly shot down by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who even he himself saw the political disaster in that plan, thankfully enough.
However, that “military commission compound” – as it was loosely referred to in our previous coverage – would have in theory accommodated up to 1,200 people and provided the capacity to conduct as many as five trials simultaneously in the first U.S. war crimes tribunals held since World War II. The proposed site we learned was used back in the 1990s to house “a tent camp for Cuban rafters."
This fact was made even more curious when we later heard that the U.S. Congress approved earlier this year “an $18 million proposal for the Department of Defense to build a migrant detention facility” on the base as well. Or, as The Miami Herald quoted one U.S. official who called it a space “to shelter interdicted migrants.”
This abandoned runway sure is a precarious little strip of land, to say the least.
Though I’m not quite sure what has become of that contract yet there have been (it seems) various attempts to secure Guantánamo’s value in the war on terror by redeveloping and adding significant new permanent structures to it cementing not only the facility itself but the legal architecture that holds the site in place, too. And I find these last couple proposals a bit too eerily synchronized not to be part of a larger strategy to keep the controversial facility from being shut down altogether. Since Congress has faced continuous pressure to close Guantanamo Bay as a detention center – both internally and from governments abroad – it is hardly odd really to find this sudden plan to offshore a brand new warehouse for rounded-up coastal border-crossers (who can under law now be tried as felons or ‘alien unlawful enemy combatants’) and to establish a compound to expedite the rapid legal processing of them once they end up there...
...According to the article the court building – “surrounded by trailers, moveable cells, concertina wire and a tent city” – is itself a prefabricated and totally portable kit of parts that’s been shipped to Cuba and, we are told, “could be unplugged, disassembled and put back together somewhere else.” Go figure, justice cast in Lego plastic ready to be made in an infinite reconfigurability of political forms.
In the Pentagon’s own words it is a state-of-the-art courthouse, completely unprecedented, never before seen, yet described literally by the Times reporter as “a squat, windowless structure of corrugated metal” rigged inside with the latest trial technology – “the perfect architecture for the long-running limbo that is Guantánamo.” Nicely said.
Like the sign reads ‘Camp Justice’ is – to its credit – just what it says it is: justice in the form of a camp. There is absolutely no pretense here whatsoever, nor can it be mistaken for anything else either, really, which is partially what makes it so disturbing. Not to mention how obnoxious and arrogant it is in its crude declaration of itself. CAMP JUSTICE. We're here. But, again – to be fair – the name does actually say it all...
In a frighteningly lucid and surgical essay Vanishing Points geographer Derek Gregory describes the war on terror as a “war on law”, or a “war through law” – through the suspension of law. While emergency is the state’s tactic it is ultimately the law itself that is the most critical site of political struggle, he contends. If I recall correctly, Derek explains how Guantanamo Bay was established as a purposefully ambiguous political space camouflaged in the folds of legal uncertainty. In short, the U.S. left Cuba while still claiming jurisdiction over the base but not official territorial sovereignty, which allowed it to exist in between a place of law and lawlessness – essentially a place of “indeterminate time” and “indefinite detention.” He calls it a “site of non-place” created for a “site of non-people” located on the peripheral edge – or the “the vanishing point” – of the legal spectrum where international law is no longer enforceable (and therefore non-existent), and where American sovereignty has no application. It is the ultimate space of legal oblivion, you might say. It is neither a legal nor an illegal space and in all juridical dimensions is neither existent nor non-existent: it is – as far as I can make of it – the production of a convenient and sub-legal nowhere.
And just like that, they can make you...disappear.
And then they, what, fold up their tents and move on.