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Better an Iguana than a Man: On Indefinite Detention and Guantánamo Bay

by on December 22, 2011

Condemnation of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), largely for the inclusion of what’s known as the indefinite detention clause, passed by Congress on 30 November 2011, is widespread. A New York Times editorial suggests the 2012 NDAA marks “a complete political cave-in, one that reinforces the impression of a fumbling presidency.”1 The confidence expressed by Americans and outsiders alike that the election of Obama signaled a turning point has—let us face it—eroded.

Glenn Greenwald provided sufficient analysis of the obvious ways in which the bill ventures into increasingly dangerous legal issues, so it does not seem necessary to reproduce similar explanations.2 Much of the outcry against this bill has been over the proposed legality of indefinitely detaining American citizens—the possibility of which is certainly present within the bill’s text.3 What concerns me chiefly, though, is the deployment of the legal term coverage, present within the indefinite detention bill.

In legal terms, coverage (in insurance law, at least) is meant to “hold [one] protected against a particular risk,” and an oral contract to cover that “the insured is at the present time protected against loss . . .”4 Elsewhere, the act of coverage signifies receiving “protection against or compensation or indemnification.”With coverage, then, comes insurance or assurance of protection, particularly in hazardous or jeopardizing situations.

The unusual use of the principle of coverage appears in the NDAA in Section 1031 (b), where such “covered individuals” include perpetrators of terrorist attacks as well as those aiding such attacks in any way. The next section (c) delineates the disposition of such individuals: indefinite detention, military trial, and the individual’s transferal elsewhere, into a different zone of jurisdiction.6

What we see happening here, and what seriously concerns me, is the deterioration of the meaning of coverage—which is to say, the deterioration of one’s rights. It is here where law, rather literally, folds in on itself. The guarantee of coverage in a bill such as this is paradoxically the guarantee of no coverage whatsoever. One “covered” under such a bill is given the right to be radically deprived of one’s rights. The law legally spews the “covered” individual outside the law.

The meaning of disposition, used as it is in the NDAA, also deteriorates. Traditionally, a disposition is “an action by a criminal justice agency, the defendant, or the court that finally settles a matter in dispute.” A disposition can occur before the matter is brought to trial, for legal authorities (the police, etc.) have the power to issue a disposition.Whatever the case, the disposition arrives through legal agents and resolves the manner in some way. With the NDAA, however, one’s disposition is literally a “dis-position”: a refusal to settle the disputed matter, opting instead to position the “covered” subject in an extralegal zone where resolution is suspended and denied.

I have argued elsewhere that the advent of 9/11 altered the dynamics of law in such a way that “all things are now permissible.”8 Such changes in law, in policy, in citizens’ lifestyles, are demanded for the sake of national security and in the interest of survival. Such changes are meant (theoretically, at least) to protect people from future terrorist attacks. Such laws as this bill aims to become, however, mark the completion of a terrorist act: the transformation of law and the public sphere, not by external individuals labeled terrorists, but by native lawmakers themselves. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 did not end with the collapse of the second tower; it continues and culminates with the terrorizing of law in an attempt to protect ourselves against terrorism. We are now, in a startling sense, our own terrorists; we are now victims of ourselves, of our own terror.

To be surprised by this transformation (or transmogrification) of law and the public sphere is to ignore the case of Guantánamo Bay. In “Exceptional Sovereignty? Guantánamo Bay and the Re-Colonial Present,” Simon Reid-Henry9 examines the past and current situation in the detention facility in light of Giorgio Agamben’s conception of the state of exception.10 Reid-Henry reports that Guantánamo Bay is, in some ways, a miniature American city, complete with a Starbucks, a McDonald’s, a bar, and wind turbines to power everything.11

The urbanization of Guantánamo Bay, however, also has a disturbing, apartheidal layout. As visitors to Guantánamo Bay have noticed, the left side of the area is the commercialized, “civilized” section, whereas the right side, to which visitors are frequently denied access, is where the detainees are kept. The left side, then, is the zone of law, and the right side is the zone of violence, of war. From this, Reid-Henry argues that

it is by enforcing this spatial separation that violence can be deployed alongside the law. . . . Guantánamo Bay is both a site of law that operates within United States jurisdiction when that interpretation suits it . . . and a site of war . . . They might enter into a ‘zone of indistinction’ in an abstracted imagination of Guantánamo, but within the camp, it is more advantageous to keep them separate.12

The presence of the left side, the site of law, permits officials to equivocally proclaim law operates in Guantánamo Bay; such statements, though, ignore the fact that the right side, the site of war, operates as though the law’s jurisdiction ceases at the bay’s shoreline.

The layout of America itself lacks the apartheidal structure of Guantánamo Bay; nonetheless, such proposed laws as the NDAA initiate and implement the zone of indistinction by overlaying the site of war across the expansive site of law, the whole stretch of American territory. Within this space, this site, everyone is covered by the threat of non-protection, all the while within the alleged jurisdiction of law.

This paradox is seen in Guantánamo Bay itself with the difference in legal protection of iguanas compared to human beings. British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith reports on the strange discrepancy in the legal protection offered to each:

Iguanas are free enough, and if my escort accidentally runs one over it is a $10,000 fine, as US environmental laws apply in Guantánamo. On the other hand, if you feel the need to hit one of the 500 prisoners [detainees] who are now four years into their captivity it is called ‘mild non-injurious contact’ and there are no consequences.13

An iguana is an iguana in Guantánamo; that is, there is no act of differentiation that deems some as protected by law and others outside law. For prisoners (or detainees, as incarcerators, detainers, at Guantánamo insist they be called, for various legal reasons), however, the coverage offered them is such that, within their dis-position, they can suffer abuse and be indefinitely detained, for their deprivation of rights is their sole guaranteed right. Furthermore, these prisoners can suffer under the auspices that law still prevails in the place they are detained.

We should not be surprised, then, if we see America at large transformed into a zone of indistinction, a large-scale, macrocosmic Guantánamo, due largely to proposed laws such as the NDAA, laws which abnegate law itself. It is not unquestionably imminent, but we must admit it is a distinct and startling possibility. To call this possibility terrifying would be a tautology.

1Politics over Principle” (editorial), The New York Times 15 Dec. 2011

2 Glenn Greenwald, “Three myths about the detention bill,” Salon 16. Dec. 2011

4 Steven H. Gifts, “Cover,” Law Dictionary (Barron’s Legal Guides) (Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s, 1996)

5 “Cover,” def. 2, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law (1996 ed.)

7 “Disposition,” World of Criminal Justice, Gale (2002)

Simon Reid-Henry, “Exceptional Sovereignty? Guantánamo Bay and the Re-Colonial Present,” Antipode 39.4 (2007), pp. 627-648

10 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005). I briefly discuss Agamben’s notion of the state of exception in my post on 9/11.

11 Reid-Henry explains that Fidel Castro, enraged by continued U.S. presence in Cuba, isolated Guantánamo Bay by cutting off the power supply, thereby creating a need for an alternate, self-sufficient form of energy to continue U.S. operations there. See Reid-Henry, pp. 637, 641.

12 Reid-Henry, p. 642

13 Clive Stafford Smith, qtd. in Reid-Henry, p. 642

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From → Archives, C. Ryan

  1. “..The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 did not end with the collapse of the second tower..”

    Strictly speaking, ‘collapse’ does not adequately or accurately describe what happened to the second tower (or the first tower or WTC 3,4,5,6 or 7).

    If you watch this video (watch it in highest quality and I recommend reading the text in the video info) you’ll notice that the tower is not collapsing due to fires, or even due to explosives. It is in fact being ‘dustified’.

    The prefabricated outer sections of steel which are peeling off the structure and falling down are actually producing dust in their wake. The dust is not being dragged behind the steel, caught in its slipstream. The dust is coming from the steel itself. Note how the dust trailing behind each chunk of steel is relatively stationary (hanging in the air) and it continues to expand in situ after it has streamed off the surface of ‘dissolving’ steel…… rather like an alka-seltzer pill dissolving after being dropped into a glass of water. This is most obvious in the upper right section of the screen towards the end of the video.

    Neither gravity, jet fuel, office fires or ‘thermitic material’ can do this. This has been shown by laboratory experiments (see links below). Only directed energy can turn steel to fine dust without producing significant heat or light (the dust cloud did not burn anyone who was enveloped in it and there were no brightly burning debris during destruction etc). Perhaps some amount of thermite (or other explosives) was used but no amount of explosives/ incendiaries can account for the actual physical and visual evidence (again see links below).

    It would appear that 9/11 was destined to be one of those events which ‘change the world forever’. But quite how the world changes depends on how on-the-ball we are. Either we miss the obvious (as we have for a decade already) and allow 9/11 to herald in a new dark age of Orwellian police state authoritarianism, with endless fear and never ending wars ……. or we figure out what really happened and as a consequence all 6 billion of us become unified by the collective knowledge that someone, somewhere has already developed directed free energy technology – a technology capable of ushering in a new renaissance, freeing us all from poverty and reliance on this primitive 20C oil based civilisation and making the already outdated brutal, hierarchical society of government mafias with their wars over resources completely unjustifiable and frankly ridiculous.


    Dr. Judy Wood – Where Did the Towers Go?


    Dr Judy Wood at New Horizons – Where Did the Towers Go – Part 1


    A Challenge To The Crop Circle Wizards – A Presentation by John Lamb Lash – 9/11 truth

  2. C. Ryan Knight permalink


    Thanks for your comment; frankly, though, the majority of it seems to nitpick a small detail that was less a scientific statement than a precursor to the subsequent sentence regarding, if you will, self-terrorism. I must note that Dr. Wood’s research has not gone uncriticized, as seen, for instance, in Gourley’s critique of this theory, published in the Journal of 9/11 Studies ( Even if Dr. Wood’s theory is correct, collapse isn’t a misnomer, for it means, among other things, to “fail suddenly and completely,” which obviously occurred.

    Your last paragraph raises a number of important issues (albeit in a rather tangled fashion). I don’t anticipate an explicitly Orwellian police state authoritarianism; the zone of indistinction explored by Agamben is, I think, rather different in its performative nature. Regardless, these are important things to think about.

  3. Michael Ross permalink

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I find your argument compelling, especially the idea of America becoming “a zone of indistinction” as the U.S. government tries to chase their self-created specter known as terrorism. But to be honest, this post also leaves me torn.

    On one hand, I read Benjamin Wittes’ posts over at Lawfare, in particular, NDAA FAQ: A Guide for the Perplexed and I come away with a rational understanding of the language in the NDAA. Wittes points out, correctly, that, “[n]o federal statute can repeal the Bill of Rights. To the extent any provision of the NDAA is found to conflict with any provision of the Bill of Rights, it will not survive constitutional scrutiny.” So in the end, the justice found within the Constitution will survive.

    But that is in an ideal world. What Wittes doesn’t point out however is what it would take to show that any provision in the NDAA is, in fact, unconstitutional. Generally, the provision would have to be used and then taken to the Supreme Court (well, it would probably start out in a lower court and move its way up) to prove or disprove its constitutionality. That means someone, or a bunch of someones, were taken into military or indefinite custody and now are appealing such an action, possibly under duress.

    I tend to be a bit cynical, so when I read Glen Greenwald’s version of the end result of the NDAA, I tend to initially agree with his assessments. Admittedly though, Greenwald is more reactionary whereas Wittes is more reasoned, if not slightly right-leaning, in his approach of the subject. That Greenwald and Wittes have an on-going online tiff doesn’t help matters as a healthy discussion between the two seems unlikely in a time when such a public discussion is most needed.

    The most reasoned response I’ve seen concerning NDAA and indefinite detention comes from Raha Wala of Human Rights First. His take on the NDAA, posted on Lawfare.

    Wala says the NDAA will authorize the indefinite detention of citizens, “though ultimately a court will decide whether detaining a citizen pursuant to the AUMF is lawful depending on the circumstances.” Which is exactly what I think will happen when a citizen is picked up by the authorities and then sent through the ringers of our court system. What comes out on the other side will reveal what America is to become in light of the NDAA.

  4. Sure, I understand that the word ‘collapse’ was used here simply as a way to reference, in passing, the destruction of the North tower. But this kind of casual use of the word when discussing issues relating to 9/11 was exactly what I wanted to comment on. It was not meant to be any kind of damning criticism (we’re all guilty of such casual language). It was more like a tangental point of interest (to me anyway). But a point which I also consider to be extremely important.

    Given the nature of the 9/11 event and the fact that what actually happened to those buildings specifically (and on that day generally) is still a very contentious and unresolved issue, I think it’s extremely necessary to examine (to the point of nitpicking) the language we use to describe it. Because if ‘collapse’ is an inadequate or misleading term in this case surely we should refrain from to using it, or at least point out why it might be problematic?

    Imagine a man who started the day alive and well but by the middle of the day was dead. The news could report that he had ‘died’ and this might seem to be a perfectly acceptable way of describing what had happened. “Joe Bloggs died today”. Strictly speaking it is not a lie after all. But what if this dead man was found with a small hole in his chest, or every bone in his body was found to be broken, or his blood contained an unknown toxin? Now with this added information to say the man simply ‘died’ is clearly misleading…… especially if this description results in no proper autopsy or forensic investigation being performed.

    A similar situation applies to the twin towers. To say they merely ‘collapsed’ contradicts (or at best inadequately describes) the actual evidence, which means that evidence gets overlooked or is classified as inconsequential which in turn inhibits our capacity to conceive what might have actually happened and prevents a proper investigation from being carried out.

    The US administration and mainstream media reported the towers as having ‘collapsed’ from the start and as a result this became the accepted (consensus) description of what happened to the towers all around the world. As a result the 9/11 Commission’s investigation was able to be limited to only investigating what happened to the towers ‘up to the point of collapse initiation’ (quote). The 9/11 Commission never actually looked at the manner in which the buildings came apart! This is because a ‘collapse’ is self explanatory. It is a known phenomena/ mechanism which we all understand. Self explanatory things do not need explaining by definition.

    And so examining the use of the word ‘collapse’ in describing what happened to the towers might seem like nitpicking, but the repeated and unchallenged use of this term affected how the entire world conceived the event, how they interpreted what they saw on TV (as any psychologist will tell you believing is seeing, and not the other way around) and it affected the entire official investigation into the event.

    To fully appreciate the ‘paradigm changing’ consequences of this little word one only has to imagine the news using a different and more accurate (or less misleading) description. Suppose right from day one the mainstream media described the towers as having ‘turned mostly to dust’ or ‘explosively disintegrated’ or ‘inexplicably unravelled’ ….etc. Suppose they went really crazy and asked the viewers to go to their stairs and imagine 110 concrete and steel floors stacked up above them (each floor an acre in size), and then imagine those 110 floors being ‘destroyed somehow’ such that when the dust cleared there was blue sky above you and no more than a story’s worth of debris all around. This is what actually happened to the 14 survivors of stairwell B in the North tower. They assumed they had been buried under 110 stories of debris piled above them and that they’d be dead by the time it had been cleared off them. Instead they saw sky above them as the dust cleared and they virtually walked out into the sunshine.

    Just about any term other than ‘collapse’ would have been more accurate/ less misleading and would have carried some very different implications. For example an investigation into ‘what turned the buildings mostly to dust’ would have been very different to an investigation into ‘what caused the buildings to collapse’. Most importantly the public’s expectations for the outcome of such an investigation would have been very different.

    The difference would be roughly comparable to an investigation into ‘what happened to the man up to the point when he died’ compared with an investigation into ‘how the man was murdered’ or perhaps ‘how the man came to suffer three broken ribs and have brown carpet fibres in his lungs’. Even the slightest additional details change the whole nature of the investigation and change what can and can’t qualify as a satisfactory explanation.

    Therefore I would not call this focus on how an event is defined nitpicking. I would call it evidence based rational thinking.

    You say: “Even if Dr. Wood’s theory is correct, collapse isn’t a misnomer, for it means, among other things, to “fail suddenly and completely,” which obviously occurred.”

    Firstly, Dr Wood presents no theories, but rather a collection of evidence. Secondly, I agree that ‘collapse’ is often used casually and vaguely. But 9/11 is no casual matter and there is no excuse for the persistent casual use of any words when discussing this event – including the word ‘collapse’ – especially if these words mislead because they contradict the existing evidence.

    Osteoporosis and a sledgehammer can both cause sudden and complete failure of human bones. But it would be wrong for a doctor to mix up these words casually because he felt they amounted to the same thing in layman’s terms.

    A ‘collapse’ implies gravity is the main driving force. Yet analysis of the video footage and basic physics tell us in at least five different ways that the buildings did something other than collapse.

    1. Steel observed turning to dust in mid air + fine dust settled all over Manhattan + even finer dust floated up into the atmosphere (not even a controlled demo creates dust that fine)
    2. Lack of debris at base (ie within footprint) – a collapse needs a driving force, if the weight of the upper mass of the building was ‘pile driving’ its way down through the structure how can it be missing at the base?
    3. Constant downward acceleration (64% of free fall) measured for top section of tower (no jolt). Therefore top section not crushing lower section but rather falling into ‘space’ already created by some other mechanism.
    4. Towers observed to peeled like bananas – none of this mass was capable of crushing lower structure as it was falling outside of building.
    5. South tower’s top section rotated to 23 degrees and then stopped before it dropped down and almost completely disintegrated into dust – only at this point did the rest of the tower start to also ‘disintegrate’.

    ‘Collapse’ does not and can not describe any of the above so we should probably not use this word to describe what happened to the towers.

    I agree that Dr Wood’s research has been much criticised. More than that it has been ignored and/ or ridiculed by both the ‘establishment’ as well as the official alternative ‘truth movement’ (such as AE9/11 Truth).

    Gourley’s critique which you linked begins (as most of her detractors do) by classifying her research as a ‘theory’ (which implies speculation etc). In reality she only presents evidence, evidence and more evidence and she is the only researcher to date to submit her evidence to NIST in the form of a ‘request for correction’ (RFC), and later a legal challenge which went as far as the supreme court. By contrast, representatives of AE9/11 Truth made their own RFC to NIST but did not include any mention of their supposed evidence of ‘thermitic material’. If this evidence of ‘thermitic material’ is so strong one wonders why they chose not to submit it to NIST….

    In keeping with all other critics of Dr Wood’s evidence (not theory), Gourley further ridicules her by saying she is promoting some theory about ‘space beam weapons’, despite the fact that her evidence is just evidence and separate to such speculation. As she explains here.

    Incidentally two of the contractors employed by NIST for their 9/11 investigation (ARA and SAIC) are involved in directed energy technology. ARA was one of the founders of the ‘Directed Energy Professional Society’. Rumsfeld himself admitted in a Pentagon press conference that directed energy weapons are in ‘early stages’. I wonder if Gourley considers everyone involved in Directed Energy Technology a raving conspiracy loony… or is it just people who submit hard evidence to NIST which challenges the official conspiracy theory of 9/11?

    As for the rest of his critique, it is very sketchy and overlooks much of her evidence and seems to dismiss the rest (rather than actually refuting it).

    As already mentioned, but it’s worth reiterating, one only needs to look at the footage of the towers being destroyed (watch in best quality) to see that the steel is indeed being turned to dust in midair by some mechanism. Look at the upper right area towards the end of the video to see clearly how the dust is streaming off the steel. The dust is not coming from the inside of the towers and being dragged behind the steel by its slipstream. The dust is being produced by the steel itself. After the dust streams of the steel it continues to expand in place as the steel continues to fall (and produce even more dust in its wake). The effect is comparable to an alka-seltzer dissolving in a glass of water. This observation can hardly be disputed, much less explained by any of the conventional theories (fire, jet fuel, gravity, ‘thermitic material’ etc). If the evidence itself suggests some other form of advanced directed energy technology why shouldn’t we at least remain open minded to this possibility? The automatic ‘space beam’ ridicule is not scientific, to put it politely.

    Then we have the 700ft tall ‘spire‘, an intact section of the North tower’s core which remained after the rest of the tower peeled away from it and ‘went away’. Having been unloaded of the entire weight of the tower (which it had successfully supported for 30 years) it remained standing for a few more seconds before also ‘going away’. It did not fall over like a tree (it would have taken out several blocks if it had), it just sort of ‘dissolved’ leaving more dust in its wake. It is likely to be the same section of core structure which stood above the survivors of stairwell B (also in the North tower). This would mean that the 700ft of steel core didn’t end up above their heads either. I wonder where it went?

    I hope you can start to see why language is so important when discussing what happened to the twin towers. The term ‘collapse’ is completely inadequate (at best) to explain what actually happened to those towers. We would never dream of using such inadequate terms in such a casual way to describe the cause of a human death. And especially not if the death was part of an obvious criminal act which was of major international significance.

    Why should the language describing a building’s demise be any less thorough and precise?

    I hope that explains my previous point a little more clearly.

  5. C. Ryan Knight permalink

    Greetings again,

    As one who teaches English and emphasizes le mot juste in writing courses, I agree that words should be used precisely. What you say is indeed important to think about, but I can’t say I think you’ve raised these issues in the right setting, seeing how they are intensely scientific and thus outside the scope of this blog. Your concerns would be better situated if they appear in scientific blogs or settings instead of specifically political ones, such as this one. Within this setting, there is still nothing wrong with saying the towers collapsed, for they indeed did. The word might not capture the full scope of what you believe transpired, but it doesn’t change the fact that they collapsed. There was obviously a sudden and complete failure to remain erect, however that failure was engineered.

    I can make a couple comments on evidence and theory, though. Based on what you say in defense of Dr. Wood’s research, you have evidence and theory backward. Theories (worthwhile ones, at least) are based on evidence. Take, for instance, the theory of evolution (though scores of scientists improperly discuss it as though it were a law and not a theory, which it still definitively is). It is thus not a detraction to say Dr. Wood has formulated a theory. Once evidence is properly compiled, that synthesis becomes a theory. If the theory is proven true over time, it transfers into the highest tier, law.

    Sure, Youtube footage is evidence. I can’t say with certainty that scientists discredit Youtube footage as proper scientific evidence, but I would be surprised if they treated it with the same astuteness as laboratory experiments where, say, they try to simulate or re-create the 9/11 attacks to test Dr. Wood’s theory (I stand by my classification of her work as theory). High quality video footage doesn’t always equal the scientific exactitude necessary for credible work, even if it’s all we have to work with for the time being.

    I welcome further comments on the political aspects of this post (or my comments on the difference between evidence and theory), but I must inform you I shall reject any further comments specifically on the scientific aspects of 9/11, for they are outside the scope of this blog, and it’s fair to say you’ve made your points on this matter sufficiently by this point. Thanks for your interest in Le Coup D’oeil and for your insights.

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