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A Kangaroo in Obama’s Court


Compared with Nuremberg’s magnificent Palace of Justice, a Renaissance-revival showpiece where American prosecutors tried Nazi war criminals after World War II, the Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC) at Guantánamo Bay provides little to please the eye. Enclosing the facility, which houses Gitmo’s military courtroom, is a ten-foot chain-link fence covered with dark-green sniper netting and two dense coils of razor wire. Unseen soldiers keep watch from mobile guard towers. Around the fence runs a security perimeter made of bright-orange Jersey barriers, seemingly the work of a counterterrorism specialist strongly influenced by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Photographing the complex is strictly forbidden, except from one specific point marked by a 3'×3' spray-painted square on a walkway, though my attempt to use this square is interrupted by two soldiers puttering by in a golf-cart-like vehicle called a mule, who bark at me until my escort, an unflappable Marine sergeant from the Division of Public Affairs, politely informs them of the picture-taking rule. Sheepish, they drive off. My sergeant dutifully examines my photo to make sure my lens hasn’t strayed; asked to account for such precautions, he answers in a deadpan, “So Al Qaeda doesn’t know where to go when they land with their submarines.”

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is the James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought at Amherst College. His most recent book, The Vices (Other Press), was a finalist for the 2011 National Jewish Book Award. Steve Mumford is an artist based in New York City.


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