A Concentration Camp by Any Other Name…

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.

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  • Larry

    That’s calling it what it is– thanks for speaking out!

  • Mike Anderson

    When foreigners ask me about politics in the United States, I’ve
    been telling them that the main difference between liberals and
    conservatives is how they distrust their government. Liberals work
    for change because they think the system is fixable, even while
    distrusting the moneyed interests that regularly run us into the
    “ditch.” Conservatives resist change because the leaders
    of “progress” are godless and evil, and the system is not
    fixable except to undo what the liberals have done.

    I thought of this because among the few politically conservative
    Christians I know who acknowledge that Guantanamo detention is an
    ethical problem, they attribute it to a system so corrupt that it is
    un-fixable, so they will do nothing about it. Fish for souls but
    don’t clean up the pond, they would say. Perhaps that is just a
    rationalization to escape the political crossfire that would come
    with working for change with liberal groups they are deeply
    suspicious of, but even so I allow that quietism is the role of some
    Christians. It takes great faith to work for change when you think
    your efforts will not be effective, and may even be putting yourself
    in harm’s way, since your reward might be in heaven more than in this
    life. And if a conservative Christian’s efforts for change are
    rewarded sooner, he might think better of the “system” and become

  • gingoro

    Roger Concentration camps are not a new phenomena. In world war II the Japanese in both Canada and the USofA were put into detention centers, just another name for concentration camps. Even before that the Indians were forced onto reserves, again another name for concentration camps. All such imprisonment is an ongoing evil although possibly necessary for some short period of time.


  • TomD

    “The mainstream US media since the late 19th century at least has been in
    lock step with our governors on foreign policy or often leading our
    populace to pressure the governors to make war efforts and/or coerce
    others financially.”

    This statement is dramatic, but historically false. You must be too young to have experienced the Vietnam War. It was the mainstream US media that eventually lead the charge against the War in Vietnam and helped to ensure that the people of Vietnam would suffer years of death and abuse at the hands of their North Vietnamese oppressors.

    It never fails to amaze me the number of people who choose to blame the United States for the woes of the world, even when it is clear that, as in the example of Vietnam, it was the communists who were the aggressors that lead to death and destruction. Ideological bias does blind the mind.

  • -gpf

    Well Written

  • Roger Olson

    And now I see a cover of some major news magazine (simply glanced at as I passed in an airport hallway) that ask if we must give up our privacy for safety. Many will say yes without thinking about the consequences. That is giving up “America” in my opinion.

  • Roger Olson

    You are trusting what the government says for all this. Why?

  • Roger Olson

    Everyone agrees there are “detainees” there being held indefinitely without trial and being denied habeas corpus. If everyone’s wrong, then there’s no harm in protesting. If everyone’s right, then protesting is the right thing to do and might do some good. What I don’t trust is the government’s claim that they all deserve to be there. I don’t know because I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”–a basic axiom of our way of life.

  • Roger Olson

    That way of thinking is exactly what got Germany into trouble in the 1930s–giving away basic rights for security.

  • Roger Olson

    Go to youtube.com and look for a three part series on Calvinism (also Arminianism) by evangelical philosopher Jerry Walls.

  • Roger Olson

    I don’t know what your point is. I didn’t mention them because I don’t know enough about them. Were people “interned’ there indefinitely without trials?

  • Roger Olson

    The article I read recently about Gitmo said a federal court had declared the “detainees” there had rights of habeas corpus but their lawyers’ attempts to exercise those rights on their behalf have been stalled by other courts and by congress.