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October 27, 2007

Portable Justice

Guantanamo-Court-Room

To the extent the built environment, and man’s political effect on topography and the landscape is a vital subject of visual media, I welcome Bryan Finoki to BAGnewsNotes.  Bryan writes about the politics of architecture and the militarization of urban space, and publishes the popular Subtopia blog.

by Bryan Finoki

Based on this interior shot you might think the new halls of justice being constructed in a hurry at Guantánamo Bay are a step in the right direction.

Five years since the first detainee was admitted, with only one out of  330 having been tried to date (on a plea bargain, no less), it appears a respectable sphere of legality is finally being ushered in to the controversial detention center in Cuba. I mean it looks just like any other American courtroom, right?  Nothing glaringly inappropriate in the way it’s been framed.

In the Pentagon’s own words, it is a “state of the art,” new kind of legal complex, completely unprecedented, never before seen. Why should we not trust, then, the official and ethical-looking presentation of the space as pictured? Well, maybe it’s not what they don’t want us to know so much as how they want us to know it.  Let me explain.

Since this photo comes in an article full of pictures in The New York Times, entitled “Portable Halls of Justice Are Rising in Guantánamo,” there is clearly little intent to prevent the public from learning about “Camp Justice.”  What it’s being called, in all fairness, is exactly what it is: justice in the form of a camp, literally – a camp, a pop-up architecture; a temporary justice city that is not much different from the so-named “Rule of Law Complex” (slide show; article) looming outside of Baghdad.

Guantanamo-Justice

It’s not that they don’t want us to know the whole thing is an inflatable complex, or a hovering courtroom that can be deployed, assembled, disassembled, re-deployed in just a few hours, or that the colonial form of justice as it was enforced on the frontier is still alive and kicking; nor, do they care that this image exposes the blatant strategy of offshoring detention and extending American sovereignty beyond its own borders through these legal vestibules that could presumably be cloned anywhere on the planet.

In fact, that is precisely what they want us to know – that justice is now ultimately flexible, modifiable, adjustable and adaptable to any circumstances or interpretation thereof, and can – quite literally – reshape the political landscape.  That is, not only can American justice be tailored, written, and re-written to fit the crime, but it is the U.S. that will architect the logical basis for the practice of international law as well.

In that regard, Camp Justice — in its physical character — fits America’s brand of “legitimized” imperialism just perfectly.



(photos: Todd Heisler/The New York Times.  2007. nytimes.com)

  • Books Alive

    Anyone else remember the hue and cry when Rummy proposed the permanently built courtrooms at Gitmo? It was very high-priced and included deluxe accommodations for the lawyers, judges and staffers.

  • ‘H’

    Erickson ambiguity: ‘Sentenced to death for crimes against the laws of Iraq’/'We are a nation oflawsnot of men’

  • lytom

    Potemkin village of justice in Guantanamo. How splendid! Now the only question remains is there a justice?

  • http://www.nocaptionneeded.com Hariman

    Very insightful post. Reminds me of the proposal for a Pneumatic Parliament that could be airlifted into Third World locales for instant democracy, or used in the First World as a theme park. The chief architect was Peter Sloterdijk, best known for a book combating modern cynicism with deeper, more parodic cynicism. You can see the Pneumatic Parliament in Making Things Public, by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, eds.

  • http://subtopia.blogspot.com/ Bryan Finoki
  • http://tekel.wordpress.com tekel

    That is, not only can American justice be tailored, written, and re-written to fit the crime, but it is the U.S. that will architect the logical basis for the practice of international law as well.
    Wonder how Microsoft would respond to that statement, after being ordered to pay several hundred million euros for violating EU antitrust law. Or whether the House of Saud would agree with the US version of justice. You could probably draw all kinds of uncomfortable parallels between Sharia law and Dick Cheney’s version of American justice, but that doesn’t mean that the Saudis will be letting women vote (or, you know, drive cars) any time soon.
    I would also be interested in a reaction from the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, where Gonzales and Cheney and many other Americans should end up as a result of the torture they continue to perpetrate.
    Maybe portable justice is the vision we’re selling, but I don’t think anyone is buying.

  • http://subtopia.blogspot.com/ Bryan Finoki

    I’d like to hear all those responses to that statement as well. I think you make a fair point though – everyone is seeing the judicial bankruptcy in this, and they are – as you point out (albeit too few and far in between) – some instances of global oversight.
    However, I would just add, the purpose of a “portable justice” spatial product like Camp Justice is not a question of what we are selling and whether they are buying it or not, it is more about the production of justice we are pushing regardless – that has been designed specifically to operate outside the bounds of international law in the very event the rest of the world isn’t buying into our normal dealio.
    In that sense, it is not about a philosophical marketplace but rather manifesting a sub-legal means of relandscaping the way these higher ideals of justice and their loftier machinations can be subverted while remaining immune to any international consequences in the process.

  • jtfromBC

    just love those color co-ordinated chairs and the garbage can !

  • jtfromBC

    and the red handle on the white cooler compliments the red lettering on the white door
    wonder what Martha Stewarts take on this might be ?

  • Janet

    You could probably draw all kinds of uncomfortable parallels between Sharia law and Dick Cheney’s version of American justice, but that doesn’t mean that the Saudis will be letting women vote (or, you know, drive cars) any time soon.
    Not sure of your overall point, but be assured that the US is untroubled by how women are treated, full stop. More likely that US women will be losing the vote and the right to drive cars than that the US will use any power or persuasion to improve their lot at the expense of ANYTHING else they value.

  • jtfromBC

    Bryan Finoki, thanks this is an intriguing post, it became even more so after I visited Instant Democracy: The Pneumatic Parliament.
    This reminded me of Arundhati Roys Talk:
    Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free)
    In re-reading I substituted a few words here and there, like justice for democracy etc and now have another valuable perspective – your architecture – in which to assess this monster among us.
    “Empire is on the move, and Democracy is its sly new war cry. Democracy, home-delivered to your doorstep by daisy cutters. Death is a small price for people to pay for the privilege of sampling this new product: Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (bring to a boil, add oil, then bomb).
    “..and, yes, the world’s first democracy. King Hammurabi of Babylon was the first to codify laws governing the social life of citizens. It was a code in which abandoned women, prostitutes, slaves, and even animals had rights. The Hammurabi code is acknowledged not just as the birth of legality, but the beginning of an understanding of the concept of social justice. The U.S. government could not have chosen a more inappropriate land in which to stage its illegal war and display its grotesque disregard for justice.”
    [http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0518-01.htm]

  • http://subtopia.blogspot.com/ Bryan Finoki

    that is a great roy article, thank you very much – i had not seen it!
    more of my of my thoughts can be found here.

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