October 27, 2007

Portable Justice


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.


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)

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Michael Shaw
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