Karen Greenberg first arrived at TomDispatch in January 2005 in tandem with defense attorney Joshua Dratel. Their book The Torture Papers was just being published and they were asking questions. Thirty-seven of them, to be exact, all pointed, all uncomfortable, all directed at then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, all focused on the Bush administration’s torture policies and what, after a visit to Guantanamo in 2007, Greenberg would term “the jewel-in-the-crown of American offshore prisons or, to be Pentagon-accurate, ‘detention facilities.’” Here were just four of those questions: “Do you fear review by the courts? Why do you dismiss the role of the courts and ordinary law enforcement in eliciting information from prisoners in the war on terror? Isn’t it possible that the art of interrogation, practiced by law enforcement officers and professional lawyers, might, in fact, elicit more important and more accurate information in assessing the motives, networks, and plans of terrorists than, say, dogs at Guantanamo Bay or waterboarding in some CIA holding area? What exactly was it you felt it was so important to keep secret from the courts?”
Almost 13 years later, Guantanamo remains open. It is still officially a “detention facility,” not a “prison,” and those held within it still aren’t “prisoners” — you weren’t even allowed to use that word there in 2007 — but “enemy combatants,” a category the Bush administration believed put them beyond all legal norms, American or international. As Greenberg reports today, the Trump administration has just classified its first American prisoner off the battlefields of Syria as an “enemy combatant.” Gulp.
And sadly, you already know just where our president, who praised torture to the heavens during campaign 2016 (while threatening to “take out” the families of terrorists), is likely to go with this. It seems that we’re heading back to the future, back to what Greenberg, in another piece, written a mere two and a half years ago, called “the Age of Barbarism Lite.” Let her then bring you up to date, while the rest of us only hope that she won’t be back 13 years from now to tell us that the latest American president is once again stashing “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.