Glenn Greenwald, emptywheel, Mark Falcoff , Andy Worthington, and many others have written about the Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who died in Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities yesterday. Cause of death is still unknown. But if you click on these links, you will learn something about this young man, who by almost all accounts was no threat to the United States. Latif was turned over to the United States shortly after 9/11/01 by Pakistani forces in Afghanistan, which as emptywheel will tell you, they were doing quite often then. He was in detention without charges for nearly 11 years, recommended by the US Military for release in 2006 and again in 2008. His lawyers fought to have him released for a decade. According to Andy Worthington, he was cleared at least 3 times, until the Supreme Court overturned the order to release last year. Thanks to various folks (“Heroes,” we’ll call them), was left to rot in GTMO with little chance of getting out—because the US was concerned about the lack of security in Yemen.
“At one point, military records show, Latif was cleared for release. But the U.S. has ceased returning any prisoners to Yemen because the country is unstable and its government is considered ill-equipped to prevent former militants from resuming previous activities. There are about 55 Yemenis among the 167 men held at Guantanamo.”
Translation: Latif could be very angry after his years locked up and, if he wasn’t a threat to the US going into Guantanamo Bay, he could very well be one if released. Imagine: you, your brother, locked up for 11 years. Forced to wear only underpants because it is immodest to pray in scanty attire. Punished for sequestering food, for stepping over the chalk line as “lunch” was doled out. Force-fed through feeding tubes in your nose (“like having a dagger shoved down your throat,” according to Latif) because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He went on several hunger strikes to protest, among other things, his treatment in GTMO and his detention.
There are many protests of outrage, of which this post is but one. But what should we make of this death? As Peter Van Buren will tell you, there was a moment in time when torture was zealously denounced by the American Nation at large. There was a moment perhaps remembered by denizens of the US above the age of 20, pre-9/11/01 when human rights, while not airtight, were not laughable. Torture was not debated, because it was considered downright shady and impermissible for the arbiter of human rights, the U.S., to engage in such nefarious conduct. Pre-emptive surveillance, surveillance without a warrant from a judge, widespread interrogation, warrantless detention, deportation without judicial review for people whose religions and skincolors the US wasn’t fond of—these were not boasted of proudly. Assassinations, kidnappings, of foreign nationals—these were things that other countries did, and always with a frown of embarrassment.
Was this an idyllic time? No, of course not. African Americans were, even pre-9/11, fighting to survive the continuous contempt, the legal and political obstacles by whites to dignity, civil rights, wage parity, admission to college, employment for which they were plenty qualified (and over-qualified). Black men were—and still are—being thrown in prison. Nearly 1 in 3 Black men will expect—EXPECT—to go to prison in their lifetimes today.
Life is still extremely precarious for segments of the Black, Latino, Muslim, and Arab populations, but life has been extremely beneficial for many others at the same time. It’s not coincidental of course. It involves a little thing called the Social Contract. As philosopher Charles Mills describes the Social Contract that is at the heart of modern liberalism—at the heart of modern Europe and North America—it is a Racial Contract. A Racial Contract underpins the Social Contract, which means that political freedoms and social obligations are built upon the racial hierarchies that form the basis of United States political history.
That means slavery, Jim Crow, the exclusion of Chinese immigrants in 1882, the lynchings of black men, the internment of citizens and migrants of Japanese descent, the Hindu Conspiracy Trials of 1917 (where the US cooperated with the British to try Punjabi political dissenters who want Self-Rule in India), the deportation of Mexicans in the 1920’s, the Bracero program, and widespread harassment of Black Americans and migrants.
Today’s Racial Contract is slightly updated: it involves participating in the imperial impulses of the American Homeland, of doing the bidding of the American Empire.
We can see the Racial Contract operating in every area of American Politics—from designing torture policies, to pre-emptive policing, to exculpating bankers who enabled the financial and housing crises, to arguing for invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Racial Contract is being built on the drones that are killing Yemenis, Pakistanis, Saudis, Afghans in Guantanamo. The Racial Contract is being built on the lives of Iraqis and Pakistani civilians. It may soon be built on the lives of Iranians.
There’s another aspect as well. Philosopher Michel Foucault insisted in the mid 1970’s that we needed to take the emphasis off the figureheads like kings and presidents, and focus on its inner workings, on laws, bills, policies, programs that divide a society in two, and will—literally—force some to live and allow others to die.
About 10 years ago, this division was much harder to see. Today, Foucault’s prescience is stunning: Adnan Latif was forced to live until—well—until he’d outlived whatever usefulness he had for the American Empire. But his life—well, it was barely life. That was also Foucault’s point: the nature of life is also subject to the whims of the state—in this case, subject to the whims of American Empire. Ditto for non-citizens like those Pakistanis, Yemenis, Afghans. They get to live until—well—until the American state decide otherwise.
Concretely, what does this mean? It means that the American Homeland (after all, this is what the Department of Homeland Security signifies) will secure its borders through the series of laws that enable it to seize the power to control who is forced to live, who will be forced to die. But the division is not just about the American Homeland and its empire. It’s about reinforcing the divide between citizens and non-citizens. President Obama was right when he invoked “citizenship” as the obligation to others. He was invoking the Social Contract in its post-racial moment: as the obligation to certain other (citizens). Not to Yemenis, Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanis. Not to brown women in other countries. Not to undocumented Latinos.
Foucault notwithstanding, the POTUS is hardly exculpated in for his involvement in this Racial Contract: His personal role in imprisoning journalists and whistleblowers from Abduleh Haider Shaye, his Administrations’s harassment of John Kiriakou, Julian Assange, and others, his extra-legal assassination of Osama Bin Ladin, of countless #2’s who are supposed to be next in line to head Al-Qaeda, from Anwar Al-Aulaqi, and his 16 year old son, to Abu Yahya al-Libi, Saeed Al Shihri. But not to worry, the Democrats will have a solid easy partnership with Republicans, who want much the same things. If elected, Romney will continue the legacy, no doubt.
Suffice it to say to that on the 11th anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001: the United States has waged a retaliatory? distracting? decade-long war. But it is hardly a race-neutral war. It is hardly a post-racial moment. Rather it is a war begun by elite whites with the assistance of populations across the spectrum, who get to reap the benefits of American Empire: Prestige, Power, Prime speaking time at the Political Conventions.
In the meantime, prisoner after prisoner will die in Guantanamo, even though they haven’t been charged, even though they have been nearly released, even though their only crime was being brown and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocents in other countries will die needlessly. But hey, that’s JUST xenophobia, and it happens all the time. So quit being an asshole and vote for the Dems, will you?
Adnan Latif? Wait, what happened? Who’s he?