Please read these two extracts from Clive Stafford Smith’s forthcoming book Bad Men, recounting his experience as a lawyer for prisoners at the military base in Guantanamo: “No fairytales allowed,” and “Have you received your gift pack?”
From the first:
One of the escorts told me that, on pain of punishment, soldiers are required to call them “detainees”. He wouldn’t even say the word “prisoner” out loud. The Pentagon had come to the conclusion that it sounds better for us to “detain” someone for several years, given that he has not been offered a trial. Naturally I set about avoiding the word “detainee”.
From the second:
There was a show block in Camp Four, where conditions were better than elsewhere. There was a show interrogation cell in Camp Five, designed to make solitary confinement look like a private suite. It had a refrigerator, a television, a VCR and a comfortable chair – everything but the popcorn. The experience laid on for elected officials was similar.
Also from the second link:
Some months later, I was in Guantanamo for New Year’s Eve in 2005. I ran across the officer who was then in charge of public relations.[…] He described how, despite the promise of openness, journalists were forbidden from taking photographs of certain perspectives of the base. He had no idea why these prohibitions existed. ‘It makes us look so bad!’ he said, slurring each word. ‘So I went online and in less than 15 minutes, I found pictures of every single view that is banned. I printed them off and showed them to the people in charge down here.’ He snorted. ‘They just told me that nothing could be changed without authority from Washington.’ The bureaucratic imperative.
So we’ve got language rules, Potemkin villages, and unnecessary secrecy. No doubt about it: secrecy is a disease that’s bad for governance. If the military is engaged in this level of self-deception, it will spiral out of control into paranoia and further repression until one of the other institutions of the US government shakes some sense into it. Ah…. but here’s the rub: which branch will it be?