What Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Says About Us

Shayana Kadidal in The Nation:

To begin with, the reference works as a joke only because the vast majority of people now see Guantánamo as so illegitimate that it approaches absurdity. The man held for five years because of his friendship with a “suicide bomber” (who was alive and well in Germany); the Bosnian Red Crescent worker asked to respond to charges that he “associated” with a “known Al Qaeda member” (without being told that person’s name–because it was classified); the government lawyer who claimed in court that a little old lady in Switzerland whose charitable donation is unknowingly diverted to Al Qaeda could be detained as an “enemy combatant”–all of these may one day make the unwieldy “Guantanámoesque” replace “Kafkaesque” in the lexicon. The movie’s marketers would never have risked alienating a significant chunk of their audience by putting the word Guantánamo in the title if there weren’t a broad public consensus that the place is synonymous with injustice.

But the use of the prison as a metaphor for legalistic absurdity and government incompetence is only a small piece of the reality at Guantánamo. And this is the really telling thing about the title: America is not ready for Harold and Kumar Go to Abu Ghraib. Guantánamo can be treated as a punch line in part because it is seen by Americans as primarily an abstract issue about executive abuse of power instead of being about real people.