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Selling Guantánamo

Exploding the Propaganda Surrounding America's Most Notorious Military Prison

John Hickman

Publication Year: 2013

In the aftermath of 9/11, few questioned the political narrative provided by the White House about Guantánamo and the steady stream of prisoners delivered there from half a world away. The Bush administration gave various rationales for the detention of the prisoners captured in the War on Terror: they represented extraordinary threats to the American people, possessed valuable enemy intelligence, and were awaiting prosecution for terrorism or war crimes. Both explicitly and implicitly, journalists, pundits, lawyers, academics, and even released prisoners who authored books about the island prison endorsed elements of the official narrative.

In Selling Guantánamo, John Hickman exposes the holes in this manufactured story. He shines a spotlight on the critical actors, including Rumsfeld, Cheney, and President Bush himself, and examines how the facts belie the “official” accounts. He chastises the apologists and the critics of the administration, arguing that both failed to see the forest for the trees.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-8

In January 2002, twenty men were selected from a much larger population of prisoners because they seemed unusual to their American captors. They were transported to the far side of the planet and delivered to a tropical island that would seem, if not for the electrified fences and the heavily armed military personnel, like paradise. The prisoners were...

Part 1. The Official Explanation

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1. Framing the Decision

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pp. 11-20

The world first learned that some of the Afghan and foreign nationals taken prisoner in Afghanistan were being transported to the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in news reports of their arrival on January 11, 2002. Although well covered by the press, the decision to use the military base as a prison initially encountered more interest...

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2. Strange Consensus

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pp. 21-42

As the report of an investigation into the motives of a presidential administration for a major decision that is widely viewed as morally reprehensible, this book is akin to the report of an interrogation of a criminal suspect. Here the analogy is not to encounters where questioning is merely the excuse to inflict punishment. Instead the analogy...

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3. Three Comparable Historical Cases

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pp. 43-61

Attempting to understand the reasons for the Bush administration’s Guantánamo decision in isolation from other historical cases of internment of special classes of prisoners runs two major risks. The first is failing to distinguish putative from actual purposes. The second is failing to understand what makes the present case truly different...

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4. Extraordinary Threat

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pp. 62-74

The “worst elements of al-Qaeda and the Taliban” was how Brigadier General Michael Lehnert, the U.S. Marines officer in command of the prison, described the prisoners as they began to arrive at the base.1 Not to be outdone by a subordinate posturing for the press, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Richard Myers promoted them as...

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5. Intelligence Collection

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pp. 75-82

The initial emphasis on the threat rationale was supported and then supplanted by the intelligence rationale, the notion that the Guantánamo decision was necessary so as to exploit prisoners as sources of information necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks. “The most important thing for us from our standpoint is gathering intelligence,”...

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6. Prosecution

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pp. 83-130

“We undoubtedly will end up processing some through the criminal justice system,” explained Rumsfeld in his news briefing on January 22, 2002. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we did some through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and I suspect there will be some military commissions.”1 That simple, almost offhand comment ignited a controversy...

Part 2. The Alternative Explanation

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7. Spectacle of Victory

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pp. 133-163

Exposing the triple rationale of threat, intelligence, and prosecution as hollow raises the obvious question: What really explains the Guantánamo decision? The answer lies in the calculations of political advantage made by senior Bush administration officials and in the neoconservative ideology of many of these officials and their intellectual...

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8. Punishment

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pp. 164-181

Human rights activists have long claimed that U.S. military and intelligence agencies practice torture and, more often, teach and supervise the practice of torture by the military and intelligence services of U.S. client states. Such claims received little news coverage in the United States, in all probability because the idea that their government...

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9. Announcement

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pp. 182-200

Politics stops at the water’s edge. National interest supersedes any political advantage in domestic politics that might be gained in conducting international affairs. In the century before America abandoned its Western Hemisphere–centered geopolitical strategy for a globalist foreign policy, the adage was more than patriotic piety. For the last...

Part 3. Repercussions

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10. Closing Guantánamo

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pp. 203-214

Closing Guantánamo was one of the least ambiguous of the campaign promises made by candidate Barack Obama during his 2008 run for the White House. Of all the reasons for his failure to fulfill, the most important is that it was handicapped, from the moment it was announced, by the adoption of two of the original rationales for the...

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11. After Guantánamo

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pp. 215-228

What became of the Guantánamo decision a full decade after it was officially announced and explained? Although the explanation survived only in bogeyman portrayals of the remaining prisoners conjured by Republican elected officials and pundits, the decision itself survived as a barbed-wire fait accompli. Despite promising to close the prison...


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pp. 229-230

Appendix 1. Guantánamo in Popular Culture

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pp. 231-234

Appendix 2. Island Prisons

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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-252

Works Cited

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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-279

About the Author

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p. 289-289

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048406
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044552

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013