Sunday, June 11, 2006

“Asymmetrical warfare” or asymmetrical justice?

Maybe it’s just a measure of my own suicidal tendencies, but I suspect that if I’d been kept prisoner in the Guantánamo facility for years on end, with no end in sight, with no opportunity to challenge the evidence against me, and under the total control of my keepers, I would probably stop eating or try to hang myself or try to do myself in by whatever means came to hand. I doubt I’d be consciously engaging in “asymmetrical warfare,” but would only be availing myself of the last shred of my autonomy.

Of what value is life, under the circumstances of the prisoners of Guantánamo? They well understand that Bush’s “War on Terror” is a war without end, a war that can never end, and that they will be held for its duration—who among us would choose “life” under such conditions? What, exactly, do they have to live for?

I find it a stunning use of language when Admiral Harris says that he believes that “this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” All three of the men had been receiving force-feedings after having gone on hunger strikes, and had no hope of ever being released—would this not cause some degree of desperation in any of us so treated? Is not their incarceration a form of living death?

It seems to me that the suicides were the most rational act that those prisoners could perform, and that their reasons for acting were substantial, regardless of their guilt or innocence (itself apparently of no interest to their captors). Given the choice of a an endless living hell at the hands of others, or relief via death, I’m pretty sure I know what I would do.


Blogger Musmanno said...


You're probably right. But we're all looking at this from a rather rational perspective. I wouldn't think men like this would commit suicide as a "tactic," but then again I wouldn't think a person would strap explosives to themselves and blow themselves and a bunch of civilians up as a "tactic" either, so I can't entirely discount the idea. The Commander's statements lay at the edges of plausibility for me, but I think there is a possibility (albeit small) that he has information, perhaps from the suicide notes, that explain his statements. Who knows?

As a complete aside, do you read any Angela Carter? Your list of favorite books is quite interesting.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Thank you for your comment, musmanno.

I think suicide bombers are a completely different phenomenon—their intent is both to do maximal damage to others in as terrifying a manner as possible, and to dramatically demonstrate that they are willing to give up their own lives toward that end, for what they consider to be the greater good. I doubt many suicide bombers are actually suicidal; their acts are solely tactical.

Also, it's my understanding that Harris's (idiotic) comment was made well before the suicide notes had been translated, though I could well be wrong about that.

It seems to me that along with all their other pathologies, most who are in (or who buy into) the Bush administration also suffer from massive narcissism—their self-importance is breathtaking, and nearly every public statement that is made includes the sub-text "it's all about me." Thus, they simply cannot fathom that a suicide might merely be the result of profound despair, performed as an opportunistic escape from a hellish existence; instead it must somehow be an attack directed toward them, whether of "asymmetrical warfare," or as a kind of PR stunt.


I am not familiar with Angela Carter. Is there one you recommend?


6:21 PM  
Blogger Musmanno said...

Hi Kathleen:

I don't know whether the notes were translated first or not, but I think you're right in general about the administration and the tactics it uses. That makes me suspicious from the start of anything that comes out of the admin or its representatives.

Angela Carter was a British author who died of cancer in the early 1990s. I first encountered her when I was dating a professor of women's studies who was using one of Carter's books of short stories in a class. The writing is beautiful, in my view, though some people find it too descriptive for their taste. Carter often rewrites known fairy tales or takes works from male writers like Baudelaire and rewrites them from her viewpoint as a feminist writer. She's quite interesting. Her work "The Erl-King" is online here:

If you like that one by chance, it is included in a book of short stories by her entitled The Bloody Chamber (the title story of which is, I believe, a retelling of Bluebeard), which also contains a neat story called Wolf Alice, among others.

6:09 AM  

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