Over the past 100 years there have been many examples of how brutal, heartless and depraved some members of the human species can become. It seems there are no extremes to which some of our citizens will go if they can be persuaded it is to support a higher cause – such as my ‘nation‘; ‘religion‘ or ‘race‘.
The totalitarian horrors of Stalinism and the KGB gulag mentality, the concentration-camp tortures of the Nazis along with the Nakba and slow genocide against the Palestinians by Israel are notable examples. They are evidence that the ruthless 19th century Imperialist ambitions of the capitalist and state-capitalist elite had not diminished one iota. With the destruction of institutionalised Stalinism and Fascism, the pinnacles of organised depravity are now being scaled by the often opposed elites of neo-liberal capitalism, Zionism and fundamentalist religion.
On the one hand we have the targeting of civilians by the patriarchal agents of religion who car-bomb cafes, schools and places of worship and on the other the patriarchal agents of capital and colonialism who bomb and drone-target civilians from a mile or so high. Among these multiple Himalayan-scale peaks of inhumanity and depravity stands the prison at Guantanamo Bay. It is a peak which only just manages to overshadow the ugly escarpment of Abu Ghraib.
Both instances shine a light on the inhuman persona of the armed agents of control paid for by the neo-liberal representatives of capital. Of course, driving a bomb-loaded vehicle into a crowd and detonating it with scarce regard for young, old, women or men is one form of organised depravity. Sitting at a computer console on one side of the world whilst guiding an armed drone to drop lethal weapons on far-away wedding parties or shoppers is nevertheless another.
Both activities take the development of a high degree of calculated inhumanity which many would class as evil, but these cases are not forced to confront face to face what they have done. The suicide bomber does not have to witness the deaths and disfigurements his or her act has caused. Nor does the gung-ho ‘space-invader’ cavalier sat in a darkened room triggering the weapons of his drones. They are far removed from the sight of shattered and disfigured bodies of the innocent men. women, and children who they have just cut to pieces and who then lie dead or wounded at the scene.
Not so those state agents of industrial capitalism at Guantanamo. At Guantanamo the US states armed men and women daily face those they have water-boarded, sleep-deprived, shot and beaten. In this factory, at the end of each shift, they purposefully keep them alive and shackled so they can do it all again to them the very next day. In Guantanamo, therefore, evil takes a slightly more banal form.
The banality of evil.
The banality of evil is a term which has often been used to describe institutionalised acts of barbarity and depravity which have become routine. That is to say those forms of barbarity which through repetition and mass-production are no longer exceptional but have become mechanised and methodical. Guantanamo is only a small, but significant part of a huge neo-liberal military enterprise designed to kill on an industrial scale. Guantanamo is a small production sub-unit of this industry of death and has been designed and constructed to manufacture a particular end-product.
The stages and processes set into motion by this industrialised military sub-unit were designed to obtain just one commodity – information. The production process chosen for this particular information extraction process involves inflicting harm, pain, discomfort and fear which is applied to the raw material from which this information is drawn. The admitted tools or ‘instruments’ (the means of production) used in this manufacturing process are leg-chains, handcuffs, tables, stools, chairs, towels, water, numerous blunt objects, sleep deprivation and incessant noise.
Like any other manufacturing establishment there is at Guantanamo a well developed division of labour in its production process. Thus there are those who do the torturing, those who cook their meals, those who do the paper work, those who guard the base, those who do the cleaning, the maintenance and repairs. Most of the personnel involved can therefore distance themselves somewhat from the routine acts of torture. They can just focus on their small function in the system without accepting that they are a necessary part of a depraved production process.
Whilst all such cogs in this ‘factory of torture’ can use the rationalisation that they are just ‘following orders’, those not involved in applying the instruments can also comfort themselves with ‘I am only doing the; cooking, repairing, record-filing, driving etc‘. However, there are two job specifications in this unit of conveyor belt torture which are at the blunt – or sharp – end of this manufacturing ‘system’.
The two sets of ‘skilled’ workers in this disgusting and barbaric production process are first; those who turn the raw material of humanity into the final product of information, and second; the medical staff who salvage the raw material when it has been ‘worked-over’ to total exhaustion. Using the above-noted instruments of production the torturers apply them to their chosen captured human beings and after an appropriate period of production, the medical staff ensure that the raw material is sufficiently recovered to be ‘prepared’ to start the next shift.
The detainees in this way are no different than ‘slaves’ in this forced production process – they have no choice. The fact that these human subjects may be innocent of any wrong-doing is of no interest to those who work at the factory, their job is simply to obtain information. Just like the capitalist mode of production they imitate, the senior military managers are also unconcerned as to the authenticity of the source of their captured raw material supplies. Nor are they concerned with the pollution – in the form of disgust and anger – which spills out of this nefarious industry and percolates around the world.
The skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers in this military factory of torture are often presented as being the modern part of a heroic tradition of courageous principled defenders of their respective communities. But this is far from the truth. Modern combatants in this neo-liberal industry of death prefer to confront unarmed or lightly armed opponents with all the advantages of superior weaponry, superior armour and multi-dimensional back-up. One-to-one equal combat such as duelling or boxing is shunned like the plague.
At Guantanamo this disproportion is displayed in malignant detail. Detainees are doubly shackled, individually outnumbered and utterly powerless, whilst their torturers and their assistants ‘process’ this human material in well-armed, well-equipped, well-fed, well-rested teams. The inhumanity and cowardice displayed by this disproportional relationship between detainee and guards; between oppressor and oppressed at Guantanamo extends even to the latest developments at this nefarious production unit.
After years of abusive treatment many of the detainees in Guantanamo have resorted to one of the few methods of protest open to them. Unlike other enslaved persons, they cannot escape so they have gone on hunger strike. Some having given up hope of any chance of release and with nothing to live for have decided it is best to die – in one of the only ways open to them. Others, hoping to stimulate world-wide protest against the inhumanity of Guantanamo, have joined them.
The response to this decision by the managers of this information processing factory has been typically cruel and banal. Although they have no further use for them – all the possible information has been wrung out of them – they have ordered the ‘work-force’ to force feed these unwilling victims. The work-force has duly obliged. Since the victims have chosen not to eat, force feeding amounts to further torture. They have to be tackled and held down by several healthy strong guards, strapped securely to a chair so they cannot move, a rubber tube forced up their noses and down into their stomachs while a liquid is poured down the tube.
Such is the banality of this evil that although the detainees are of no further use in the information extraction process, the ’industry’ owners will not release them, nor let them die. The reason is not hard to grasp. They know what they do is despicable and are afraid of released prisoners publicising what has happened and taking legal action. They are also afraid of them dying because they will have to be released for burial and a public enquiry into the circumstances of death would be likely.
In either event the Nuremberg defence of ‘we were only following orders’ will be challenged and full disclosure of orders and practices at the Guantanamo torture factory will undoubtedly be required. As a result, such evil must be hidden away from view as much as possible and what is known must be rationalised as eloquently as can be achieved. For this reason – in the twisted minds of those who staff the unit and oversee it from afar – torture must be continued – but now for a different purpose! And as a further consequence it must be excused by the usual sickening political-style ‘spin’.
Under the impact of the spreading knowledge of the hunger strike the managers of this torture industry have recently employed spokesmen to field public and media questions concerning the circumstances of forced feeding. Aping the political spin-doctoring mode, one such military spin-doctor explained not long ago that the forced feeding was a ‘humane act which was necessary to save lives which they were bound by their humanity to do’ (that is my own paraphrase).
What a bare-faced cheek! What gall to dress up illegal capture, enslavement and torture in the terminological clothing of caring humanity. What a bicameral state of mind these apologists for and executioners of depravity must be in. One cannot help wondering if such workers ever take this particular rationale home. Eg. “What did you do today/this month daddy? “Oh I helped to save the life of someone who wanted to die?” “Why did he want to die daddy? “Mm. Lets watch TV son.”
An interesting twist.
What a noble profession these death industry workers are engaged in. It must take some slick rationalisation and well-hewn double standards to kill and torture in the name of peace and justice and then go to sleep at night. But there is a further twist to this particular US pinnacle of banality and depravity. The President of the United States is the senior military commander of this industry of death. As such he can order the killing of foreign or domestic citizens without any due process of law.
So he could if he so wished order the ending of torture and the closure of Guantanamo. But he hasn’t. Of course as the first black president he would risk condemnation from many people who opposed this (along with other things) and might even dent his future career prospects a little so this may be bothering his mind somewhat. However, what isn’t bothering his mind is the following. What is going on at Guantanamo – under his watch – is many of the things that happened to his black brethren slaves in America not very long ago.
Black slaves in America in the 18th and 19th centuries were also captured illegally, double-shackled, transported, beaten, tortured, force-fed, kept in pens, humiliated, separated from their partners, children and friends and forced to produce – in that case cotton, tobacco and sugar. Yet isn’t that exactly what a black President is allowing to happen to brown-skinned Arab men in the 20th and 21st centuries in order to produce a different product – information?
The process is remarkably the same; capture them by force from afar, transport them in shackles, pen them up and then brutally force them to produce what the neo-liberals want. To end the torture and depravity of slavery in Europe and America it took many years of campaigning and changes in the means of production. Sadly it seems it will take as long for this new form of depravity to be ended. Guantanamo is just one pinnacle, Abu Ghraib, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are others – a full list would be a long one.
Guantanamo also demonstrates the fact that just because one section of humanity has been brutally treated as raw material for another, it does not mean that all members of that section will learn humanity or humility. Obama, a fortunate member of a previous oppressed people, shows the same lack of humanitarian concern for the enslaved inmates of Guantanamo as do the Israeli Jews for the Palestinians.
The ruling elites – from wherever they are drawn – can see no further than their own immediate interests. In the case of Guantanamo, it is in the immediate interests of the North American neo-liberal elite, of which Obama is now part, to keep open this publicly funded information processing unit. This is despite the fact that the fall-out from its existence fuels anger, resentment and (along with other atrocities such as invasions, occupations and drone strikes) equally depraved acts of revenge.
Memories are long and because oppression, exploitation and such barbaric depravity have become the norm it will consequently take a long time for forgiveness and peace to enter this world. The results of this elite-led inhumanity is something we all have to presently live with and because of this hopefully more of us will come together to work against it.
Roy Ratcliffe (May 2013)
Hopefully, more people are starting to realize the horrorshow Obama has wrought. Glen Ford Black Agenda Report has called him “the more effective evil” because of how he has neutralized dissent from the left and progressives.
Good essay here. Unfortunately, Guatanamo is a blood stain on all of our consciences. Thank you for putting this out there.
Thanks Jeff. Its always nice to get feedback. I think your point about Obama being able to be more effective is an accurate one. It is a role all ‘liberal’ and many so-called ‘socialists’ are able to play precisely because a mixture of hope and naive trust always allows them to gain power and then are given the benefit of the doubt for long enough to do considerable damage.