Chapter 1. Securing the Homeland
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15 Chapter 1 Securing the Homeland Modern security regimes are defined by extremes. Practices of spying, torture, indefinite detention, and preemptive war have represented favored responses by the United States to threats of terrorism. But insecurity as a unifying concept has expanded virally since 9/11, spreading into domains of public health and disaster management, among others. Interestingly , whether for the mitigation of potential terrorist threats, flu pandemics , or hurricanes, executive power and individual responsibility prevail as dominant framing mechanisms for responses. In addition, responses to insecurity are increasingly technologized and militarized, whether in forms of technological surveillance, command-and-control organizational structures, or pervasive cultures of secrecy. These are not simply discrete actions played out on the level of nation-state policy. Instead, the field for social practice and conceptions of appropriate governance are transforming rapidly in this climate of constant threats. It is appropriate and necessary, therefore, to assess the implications of security regimes upon public institutions, modes of governance , and forms of life. This chapter begins this project by analyzing the discourses surrounding torture and disaster preparedness in the United States. Both torture and disaster preparedness might be thought of as forms of surveillance that mesh with security cultures. As interrogation, the rationale for torture is to extract information through the constant monitoring of prisoners while inflicting physical pain or psychological distress. Disaster preparedness, on the other hand, invites scrutiny of the self and others to minimize threats through the adoption of different control strategies: locating weaknesses, developing plans, spying on others, and purchasing products to ensure safety. While much more than “surveillance” is occurring with torture and disaster preparedness, monitoring and control are key to both modes of engagement. Logics of Torture In the United States’s protracted “war on terror,” fear of devastating, indiscriminate attack upon civilian populations has been mobilized by politicians and the media to justify extreme military actions and security operations. Often, these practices rely upon the suspension of law both within and beyond the country’s borders. Law can be suspended in many ways. Individuals can be declared extralegal “enemy combatants” or moved to locations beyond law’s reach. Or, laws can simply be declared inapplicable to the present circumstances , as was proposed for parts of the Bill of Rights in legal documents prepared by the Bush administration. Whatever the means of suspending law, these practices enable a false semblance of social order predicated upon universal rights, which can exist in principle while obliterated in practice. Since the United States set out on the “war on terror,” stories about the routine torture of suspected enemies have seeped through the veils of secrecy intended to keep these practices hidden from the public. Whether the torture is conducted by U.S. military personnel, Central Intelligence Agency interrogators , private sector contractors, or allies in other countries, there is now little dispute over the fact of its occurrence. The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq stands as the most infamous of these cases, where, in 2004, digital photographs of tortured and humiliated prisoners circulated, sparked public outrage, and led to military investigations. Punishment of low-level military personnel followed , but no high-level commanders were held accountable. Since Abu Ghraib, similar stories of tortured civilian prisoners have emerged, especially in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, which has become an international symbol of U.S. violations of human rights. Other stories make less news, such as the brutal treatment and killing of prisoners in Bagram, Afghanistan. At this prison site, in addition to sexually abusing prisoners, intimidating them with dogs, depriving them of sleep, and keeping them shackled in stress positions , “Further evidence of systematic abusive tactics is the use of the ‘common peroneal strike,’ referring to a blow to the side of the leg just above the knee that can cause severe damage. The taxi driver, Dilawar [a prisoner in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility], died after ‘blunt force injuries to the lower extremities’ stopped his heart, according to the autopsy report.”1 Other disturbing incarnations of such extralegal zones are seen in the (almost invisible) practices of extraordinary rendition, or transfer of “enemy combatants” to prisons in countries where they are tortured in so-called black sites.2 These are “concentration camps” in the deepest sense of the word: they strip away rights, knowledge, and humanity, reducing people to a state of “bare life,” whereupon language, consciousness, and civilization cease to exist.3 These instances should not be altogether surprising given the...



Subject Headings

  • National security -- United States
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- United States.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
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