by Harsha Walia
“Even if Guantánamo eventually closes, the problem that Guantánamo symbolises - the lawlessness, racism and imperialist mentality of the powerful - remains.” - Luke Vervaet
In 2002, Omar Khadr was arrested by the US military in Afghanistan and subsequently detained at Guantánamo Bay. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, allegedly killed a US soldier. He was captured after being shot in the back and was initially taken to Bagram prison, where he was beaten, suffocated, and repeatedly threatened with rape. One of the youngest prisoners incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay, he was fifteen years old when apprehended and remains confined there after nine years. In August 2010, a military commission trial under the 2006 Military Commission Act began. Video leaks revealed that much of the evidence against Khadr – including his so-called confession - was extracted under torture, a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Khadr initially condemned the military commission as a “sham process” and stated that “I will not willingly let the U.S. government use me to fulfill its goal.” Shortly thereafter, Khadr negotiated a plea agreement and received an eight-year sentence for five charges.
At the time of writing, Khadr was still being held at Guantanamo Bay, even though he was to return to Canada last year to serve the rest of his sentence. Khadr is the only citizen of a Western state that remains detained in Guantánamo Bay, discarded by the Canadian government. This stands in stark contrast to the demands for repatriation of detainees with Australian, German, and French citizenship.
As written by Tara Atluri in Where’s Omar? Where Is Justice?: “We have lost politics when the case of Omar Khadr becomes a violation of the “rights” of a “Canadian” rather than a wider symptom of a war that uses bodies of Muslim men as scape goats in a grander narrative of greed. Depoliticisation is a function of the contemporary age of security ushered in by the war on terror.” In a recent piece for Dawn, Arundhati Roy chronicles the transformation of the idea of justice into the industry of human rights, which she calls a “conceptual coup”.
Appealing to “Canadian values of liberty and justice” in calling for Khadr’s release and return reinforces the myth of Canadian benevolent peace-keeping and the veneer of Canadian multicultural tolerance. In reality, Canada is built on the theft of Indigenous lands, the exploitation of slave and migrant labour, and the global appropriation of natural resources. Canada has historically lent its support to military occupations in Vietnam, East Timor, Haiti, Palestine, and is currently an active ally to the US in the War on Terror through NATO missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya.
Canada even has its own Guantanamo North, a $3.5 million Immigration Holding Centre opened especially for security certificate detainees, run by the Canadian Border Services Agency. Under the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a security certificate can be issued to a permanent resident or foreign national who is deemed “inadmissible on grounds of security” and on this basis “shall be detained without the issue of a warrant.” Detainees may be held and imprisoned indefinitely without any charges ever being laid against them and face possible deportation to torture, all on the basis of secret evidence that is never revealed to them. Even though security certificates were deemed unconstitutional in 2007, the Canadian government reintroduced them a year later and they continue to be used.
Sherene Razack notes that three prominent figures have come to symbolize the race-line in the War on Terror: the dangerous Muslim man; the imperilled Muslim woman; and the civilized European. She writes that “race thinking undergirds the making of empire, and that the world is increasingly governed by the logic of the exception… Ultimately, all Muslims become marked as outside political community when they are assumed to carry within them the possibility of threat to the nation.” The assumption that Khadr’s citizenship would somehow protect him misses the mark – the culture of fear that marks this era of heightened securitization is racialized and casts racialized bodies as eternal Outsiders. Systems of white supremacy, class exploitation, and hetero-patriarchy maintain the real hierarchies of the imagined socio-political community.
The ability to designate and vilify the hyphenated citizen (Arab-Canadian, Muslim-American) depends on the reductionist image of Osama bin Laden to personify all Arabs and Muslims in the white nationalist imagination. By comparison, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 2011 massacre of youth in Norway were considered to be the acts of ‘lone’ men rather than an indictment of right-wing libertarian society. This state-sanctioned double-standard underscores the deployment of white supremacy and the apartheid constructions of ‘deserving’ versus ‘undeserving’ identities. Yasmin Jiwani writes “The racialization of these Others is maintained and communicated through a focus on the inferiorization, deviantization and naturalization of difference…” This construction of Otherness – from the War on Drugs to the War on Terror - is marked by both psychological imaginings and embodied violence.
Guantanamo Bay exists within the tentacles of the expanding prison-industrial complex and the deportation industry in Canada and the US, where, to borrow the words of Angela Davis, “regardless of who has or has not committed crimes, punishment can be seen more as a consequence of racialized surveillance”. Given the daily harassment, profiling, surveillance, beatings, killings, arrests, over-prosecutions, imprisonment, and deportations of racialized men, including of youth who are citizens or migrants, it should not be surprising that the Canadian state would be ambivalent about Khadr’s detention in Guantanamo Bay.
Foucault traces the historic development of prisons to the increasingly internalized forms of discipline diffused throughout our society, which he describes as the carceral network: “The extreme point of penal justice under the Ancien Régime was the infinite segmentation of the body of the regicide... The ideal point of penalty today would be an indefinite discipline: an interrogation without end, an investigation that would be extended without limit to a meticulous and ever more analytical observation, a judgement that would at the same time be the constitution of a file that was never closed…”
The regime of social control that disappears racialized people long pre-dates the 9/11 era, and is justified through the entrenched settler-colonial belief that practices of punishment and incarceration are legitimate responses to communities who are inherently cast as “deviant”, “criminals”, “threats” and “terrorists”.
In light of this, it is imperative that we position ourselves in solidarity with communities subjugated to these ritualized forms of violence. Gustav Landauer wrote almost a hundred years ago that “the State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships.” We have to commit ourselves to over-growing the logic of the state itself by exercising our sovereignties differently, thinking of our identities as a place of connection rather than exclusion, and reconfiguring our kinships based on the shared visions of freedom, liberation, and self-determination.