A Concentration Camp by Any Other Name….
For several years the United States has operated a “detention center” (or “detention camp”) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It still holds fifty-some “detainees” captured during the U.S.’s invasion of Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.in 2001. They are not technically “Prisoners of War” because the center is not operated under the rules of war (Geneva Convention). It is called a detention center or camp and the men being held there indefinitely without trials are simply “detainees.”
When I was a kid I thought a “concentration camp” was where people were sent to concentrate on their crimes. Later I thought only Germany set up concentration camps and they were all extermination centers for the holocaust. Later still I read more about the history of concentration camps and learned that their modern history dates back to the Boer War in South Africa when the English rounded up and detained Boers indefinitely in enclosed camps “for their own protection.” Dachau, the first German concentration camp (which I have visited), was established to detain political prisoners, enemies of the Nazi Party, again, “for their own protection.”
Surprisingly, Dachau was not established as an extermination camp and wasn’t used that way until it became a slaughterhouse of mainly Russian officers during World War 2. A gas chamber was added, but it was never used.
My point is that, contrary to popular belief, “concentration camp” does not necessarily mean “extermination camp” and “concentration camp” is not unique to the Nazis.
My question is whether the “detention center” at Guantanamo Bay would still be open if it were called what it is—a concentration camp. I doubt it.
So, I know some people will object and say “But it houses only terrorists!” How do we know that? Some will say “Our government says so.” But why trust our government? It also said Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and used that as justification for our invasion of Iraq. Later it was revealed that American intelligence officers informed the Bush administration there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—before the invasion.
What makes America America and great is that we don’t trust our government. That’s why we have three branches of government—checks and balances—because we know power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. America is not its government and the government is not America. “America” is a state of mind, a set of ideals, that includes not trusting power.
Again—how does anyone know for sure that the men being held indefinitely without trials in Cuba (by the American government) are guilty of anything? Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” Oh, some will say, that only applies to U.S. citizens. Really? Since when? Are you saying that only American citizens have human rights? Is it not a human right not to be held without bail or trial indefinitely by force? Isn’t that why we had a revolution in 1776—because we believed there are universal human rights not granted by government but by “nature’s God?” Have we now decided those rights apply only to us? Isn’t that the same as saying we, Americans, are the only true humans? The reasoning is patently absurd. (I am, of course, talking about “American exceptionalism” taken to the extreme to which some now take it.)
So what’s preventing the Obama administration from keeping its promise to close Guantanamo Bay’s detention center? I recently read an article saying it is due to roadblocks to closing it, and even to giving the detainees trials, set up by Congress. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it’s wrong. The men who have been held there now for over a decade are human beings, not aliens or animals. They have rights. A basic human right is not to be held indefinitely by force without justification and, so far as we know, there is no justification for it. If there is, why not prove it? Surely now, after more than a decade, it can’t be “for security reasons.” And the appeal to “national security” was never sufficient reason to do what is morally wrong (viz., violate human rights).
In my opinion, this is an example of where the U.S.’s mass media has bowed to the government inappropriately. They should be calling the “detention center” at Guantanamo Bay what it is—a concentration camp. Our national mass media tend to use whatever language the government uses for things. That’s bowing to and participating in propaganda.