, Guantanamo Prison and Show Trials
Like those caged at Guantanamo Prison Camp, Jesus exposed the cruel and excessive intentions of a diabolical empire. And like those dehumanized and tortured, Jesus must have known that rulers of a new world order do not allow challenges to their hegemonic regimes to pass without violent retaliation. Jesus proclaimed The Great Reversal, or those who are poor and have been victimized by empires will be invited to reign with God. On the contrary, rulers of militant empires declare “significant reversals.” They abandon all efforts towards justice and restitution. Although military empires and their military trials appear supreme, even somehow democratic, they have no place in God’s reign.
It was for this reason, then, that Jesus was arrested and brought before a show trial.
With this in mind, it is unfortunate Presidentabandoned his efforts to try those imprisoned at Guantanamo Prison Camp in civilian courts of law with civilian juries. Would this not have been more democratic? But again, he succumbed to military tribunals, military rules, and military laws. Upon taking office and as Commander-in-Chief, he could have signed an executive order to close the show trials at Guantanamo. Instead, he signed executive orders to hold the suspects indefinitely without a charge or trial, another broken campaign promise. Already, several of them have died without a trial due to physical punishment and torture.
Obama then issued this statement: “I strongly believe the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al-Qaida and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system…to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened.” Rights activists countered claiming Obama, like President, was choosing to institutionalize unlawful, indefinite detentions, and to revive illegitimate military commissions. These actions undermine democracy and further harm America’s reputation around the world. Not every suspect is associated with al-Qaida.
In Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus, William R. Herzog believes that like many messianic pretenders, political rebels, and social bandits that threatened the Pax Romana, including the religious and ruling elites of Judea, Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and trial was another show trial. A show trial is one way of processing deviants in an authoritarian society and empire. Jesus, and many others like him, was not tried to determine his innocence or guilt. Instead, his trial was a form of political theater to show the ominous power of the Roman Empire and the consequences of challenging its imperial regime.(1)
In a show trial, the guilt of the person to be tried has already been determined and established, usually on political grounds. There is no weighing of evidence. Neither is the show trial conducted by an independent judiciary, let alone with a jury of the suspects peers. The purpose of the show trial is to execute a political subversive, or one that challenges the ruling elites and their construction of imperial reality. It serves also to publicly shame, humiliate, degrade, and discredit the one on trial, including his/her beliefs, culture, and the community (or region) where the suspect lived.(2)
Since the imperial state scripts and choreographs the show trial, it is used to reveal the states absolute power and control.(3) Show trials are public theaters, a venue for the masses. They try to destroy any realities and ideologies belonging to the one betrayed, arrested and tried, so as to prevent what ruling elites consider to be corrupt or corrosive and a threat. While making an example of the political subversive, the state sends a clear message to the public. The state and ruling elites will not allow for popular uprisings and revolts. They will always destroy any departure, or any alternate reality, that challenges their militant and violently imposed law and order.
While show trials attempt to erase any remaining influence that the suspects might have had on their followers or among their communities, they act as a kind of imperial propaganda for the state. The suspect, or deviant subversive, is labeled as a sinister criminal and a threat to society. The dehumanization of the suspect makes it easier for collaborators to ridicule and justify torturing the states “prey.” A show trial imposes automatic guilt on the suspect and their associates. Show trials appease the consciences of the state and ruling elites. The dangerous deviant conveniently becomes a scapegoat.
One of the major, and first, accusations against Jesus was not paying tribute to Caesar and the Roman Empire. (See notes at the end of this article.) In the context of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and his appearance before Romanized religious collaborators and Rome’s prefect, tribute not only carries a monetary concept but also one of allegiance and complete servitude. Jesus posed a problem because he undermined the authority of the state by opposing automatic obedience and allegiance to the Pax Romana. The power brokers and their soldiers and crowds, that were “coached,” had to eliminate him.
Like Pontius Pilate, who dangled Jesus before Judea’s religious collaborators and Galilee’s peasant uprising, the United States Empire, along with then-President Bush and now President Obama, continues to dangle the suspects at Guantanamo Detention Camp in front of Americans and the entire world. This show trial is not about justice or truth or preserving America’s values. It is about deep seated revenge and retaliation. It is a reminder of America’s imperial powers and its militant empire that imposes its own brand of law and order around the world and in foreign places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
But what emperors, prefects, ruling elites, religious collaborators, and coached crowds- that cry out, “We have no king but Bush and Obama and the Pentagon!”-never realize is this: They themselves are really on trial, including their forms of justice, their concepts about democracy, and their views on individual rights and liberties. They never understand that show trials actually degrade and condemn them and their empire, or the ones in charge and those conducting the show trials. In the end, they are the real deviants and a threat to true peace with justice and security.
Still, Guantanamo Bay Prison is a show trial in which a nation’s sovereignty, Cuba, continues to be hijacked and held hostage. It is a brutal reminder, a public spectacle and venue for the world, one that flaunts United States imperialism in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. This kind of violence, abuse, injustice, torture, and flagrant violation of international law, committed against suspected deviants and political subversives (and even a nation-Cuba) like Jesus and those imprisoned at Guantanamo Prison Camp, always has a way of escalating. The crucifier becomes crucified.
(Note: In the Gospel of Luke (23:1) and before Pontius Pilate, symbolic of the Roman Empire and Caesar, three charges are leveled against Jesus. He is accused of misleading the people. The word means to corrupt, distort, plot and to turn away. Next, Jesus is accused of forbidding the people to pay tribute. Without the annual tax and other revenues from lands, houses, foods, and products, the Roman Empire would collapse. Refusing to serve Rome through military conscription or political and economic services are also included.
Jesus is also accused of proclaiming to be a king or Son of God, a title reserved only for Caesar and one he does not deny. He tells them he (Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man) will be sitting at the right hand of the power of God. The words king and kingdom had apocalyptic connotations, especially since kingdom could also mean empire. By giving himself a title reserved to Caesar, and by declaring and living an alternative empire, Jesus was clearly in opposition to the Pax Romana. He was saying that his decrees of mercy and forgiveness and of redistribution of power will supersede and even end the Pax Romana.)
(Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent forwww.worldnews.com. You can read more of Dallas’ writings at www.beverlydarling.com