Guantánamo Bay: ‘The legal equivalent of outer space’


Guantánamo Bay: ‘The legal equivalent of outer space’

Guantánamo Bay: ‘The legal equivalent of outer space’


How the US decided on a place where suspected ‘terrorists’ could be jailed without legal protections after 9/11.

By Pauline Canham

Published 4 January 2022

Twenty years ago, the world was still reeling from the events of 9/11 that rocked the very foundations of the United States. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration began looking for ways to show the American people that the US was doing everything it could to bring those responsible to justice.

Military action in Afghanistan had started with Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, less than a month after 9/11. The US’s hunt was on for those deemed responsible for the deadliest “terrorist” attack on its soil.

As with the other so-called “war on terror” policies, including “enhanced interrogation”, lawyers were among the first to be consulted. Meanwhile, the US State Department feverishly worked on a plan to find a suitable location to hold those whom Donald Rumsfeld, then US secretary of defence, famously described as “the worst of the worst”. Finding them was one thing, what to do with them was quite another.

‘A lot will have to be done quietly’

In Bad Men: Guantánamo Bay and the Secret Prisons, Clive Stafford Smith, human rights lawyer and director of a justice campaign group, 3DC, recounts a Newsweek article in which the US State Department lawyer David Bowker discussed his work on a committee looking at the rights of suspected “terrorists”.

Bowker told Newsweek that their aim was to “find the legal equivalent of outer space”, somewhere out of the reach of the US judicial system.

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