Article by Joseph Margulies.
WikiLeaks recently released a trove of secret risk assessments regarding nearly every prisoner who has ever been held at Guantánamo Bay. I have been continually involved in Guantánamo litigation longer than any lawyer in the world, having been counsel of record in Rasul v. Bush, the first case that went to the Supreme Court from Guantánamo. Over the years, I have defended a number of prisoners at the base. Yet, in the Kafkaesque way that these things work, I cannot comment on the WikiLeaks material because they remain classified. But, even if I could, I would write about something else, because, when it comes to Guantánamo, oddities like this are no longer what matters. Indeed, they’ve been replaced by the base’s symbolism in the national consciousness.
It is sometimes said that the 1960s have become a cultural litmus test. A person’s mental image of that turbulent decade predicts a great deal about his or her position on many of the hot-button issues we face today. Those for whom the 1960s meant the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the end of Jim Crow, the narrowing of the chasm between rich and poor, and the wistful end of New Deal liberalism have a very different vision of the country than those for whom it meant urban riots, campus chaos, the assassination of two Kennedys and a King, dramatically rising crime rates, and the first welcome stirrings of modern conservatism. In this way, the decade was not simply ten years in the long march of a nation’s history, but a rare moment when competing visions of national identity collided in the public square.
We are quickly reaching a similar point regarding the meaning of, and proper response to, the attacks of September 11.