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Mystery, Paranoia, Confusion: You Won't Believe What's Happening at Guantanamo

A mystery is unfolding that highlights the peculiarities of the military commission system.

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Inside the courtroom a security expert said, “Everything said in here is recorded.” Ironically, journalists weren't allowed to bring recording devices inside. Our tour happened before the defense's allegations of secret monitoring, and one wonders whether that security expert would've used the same phrasing had the tour been given at the end of the week.

Beyond the defense's specific questions, general suspicions of surveillance are common at GTMO. Some people will say off-handedly that they have no idea if their phone conversations or personal email are actually private, or are subject to monitoring. I've certainly wondered about that, and I doubt I'm the only journalist who has.

Uncanny Justice

As the military commission system begins to take shape, slowly, I'm reminded of the artificial intelligence phenomenon of the uncanny valley. That theory states that as the appearance of non-human entities comes to resemble real humans closely but not exactly, the observer responds with revulsion.

What's happening at Guantanamo Bay now is something that could be called uncanny justice. As the proceedings inch toward what defense attorney Nevin suggested was merely the “appearance of justice,” the military commissions don't become more pleasing and comforting. Rather, they've taken on a ghastly, unfamiliar complexion, like if the Department of Justice had a wax museum wing.

It's not only human rights groups that are critical of the military commission system. Phyllis Rodriguez's son Greg was killed on September 11th. She attended the week's hearings along with several other family members of victims. She's against the death penalty, and so was her son. She characterized the attacks on 9/11 as “political opportunities to get into the Middle East.” On numerous occasions over the week, she said she'd prefer that the trial took place in regular civilian court.

The secrecy and civil liberties concerns that have arisen in the United States since 9/11 bother her, too. “Our rights have been compromised,” she said, standing in a gigantic hangar that houses the media center. “We live in fear. It reminds me of the Cold War and McCarthy era.”

John Knefel is the co-host of Radio Dispatch and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter at @johnknefel.
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