I offer you this guarantee: there’s an anniversary coming on October 7th that no one in this country is going to celebrate or, I suspect, even think about. Seventeen years ago, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the air campaign that began the invasion of Afghanistan. It would prove anything but a policing action to take out Osama bin Laden, our former ally in the Afghan anti-Soviet war of the 1980s, and his relatively modest organization, al-Qaeda. It focused instead on destroying the Taliban, then ruling most of Afghanistan, “liberating” that country, and launching what was already being called the war on terror. At the time, top Bush administration officials were thinking ahead to a similarly successful strike that would take out Iraqi autocrat (and former ally) Saddam Hussein. Victory came with remarkable speed in Afghanistan and then the conflict there just went right on. Almost 17 years later, the 16th U.S. commander, General John Nicholson, who once claimed that Washington had “turned the corner” in that country, has just left the scene, saying with a certain pathos, “It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end.” The 17th U.S. commander, General Scott Miller, has just arrived to pursue, like so many commanders before him, a truly winning strategy. So it’s understandable if no anniversary festivities are in order.
While the war on terror continues to rage in that country and across a significant swath of the rest of the planet and terror groups multiply and spread, this January another anniversary looms — and I think I can offer you assurances that it, too, will be widely ignored here. Almost 16 years ago, in January 2002, the Bush administration began to build a detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to hold prisoners from the soon-to-be-successful war on terror. It was to be the crown jewel in what I long ago termed a global “Bermuda Triangle of injustice,” including a series of CIA “black sites” being set up around the world (and a CIA kidnapping campaign being launched to snatch terrorists from the streets of major cities and the backlands of the planet), all of which was to rid us of (Islamist) terrorists. Guantánamo and its smaller siblings would also sit conveniently offshore of American justice, so that anything could be done to detainees there to get the information the Bush administration so desperately sought without fear of legal consequences. Those who ran Guantánamo, which would eventually hold almost 800 prisoners and today has only 40 left, instituted a system of indefinite detention without charges, often under conditions that could only be called torture, and even started a fashion craze, the orange jumpsuit, grimly and mockingly picked up by various terror groups for their own prisoners.
Like the wars it was to help end, Guantánamo is still there. Who could forget that, during his election campaign, Donald Trump threatened to refill that prison and on entering the Oval Office soon signed an executive order to keep it open. His administration is now reportedly contemplating repopulating it with former ISIS fighters being held in the Middle East. And honestly, so many years later, what could possibly go wrong with such a plan? Given that we also have a president who has threatened to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” a recent decision by the American Psychological Association, when it comes to torture, matters. But let TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, an expert on the subject and the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, explain.