The orange jumpsuits and black-hooded heads of the demonstrators outside un Headquarters on May Day 2006 were instantly recognizable: the uniforms of the Guantánamo inmates have become the new global logo for Washington’s war on terror. Nearly three months after the un Human Rights Commission had called for the immediate closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Centre for breaking international law, the un Security Council had taken no action; Secretary-General Kofi Annan had even tried to thwart the hrc Report’s publication.footnote1 A us senator who, reasonably enough, compared the findings of an fbi report—‘I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a foetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18–24 hours or more’—to accounts of Nazi or Soviet tortures, felt obliged to issue an immediate apology.footnote2 Guantánamo is both a shameful secret and a public emblem of power, to which Washington clings with extraordinary tenacity.

How are we to explain the importance to the us of these primitive yet highly publicized facilities? It is widely recognized that any ‘information’ extracted from the poor wretches held there could have no bearing on tracking or arresting Al Qaeda operatives. Could it be that Guantánamo, in its mutation from military base to televised torture camp, designates a new point on the world’s symbolic-economy map; that the practices here reveal the first stages of an emerging security industry, one based on quite different principles to those of existing systems; on producing a new sort of security ‘intelligence’ for a globalized media age?

Perceived in this light, Guantánamo manifests a distinctive form of labour control. Whereas slavery forced labour out of humans that were defined as chattel, and the wage system turned a worker’s labour power into a commodity to be traded in the marketplace, by extension, the security industry extracts the raw material of intelligence out of humans who are less than chattel; who have no status, except that of the infinitely detained. In terms of a cost/benefit analysis, one can hardly imagine a more profitable mode of production. Outside of investments in infrastructure (the chainlink fence, shackles, concrete floor), and minimal outlays for service and maintenance (hoods and jumpsuits, interrogators, Muslim diets), intelligence is basically free for the taking. Once procured, it feeds the exponential growth of the American appetite for security, and that of an industry to supply it.

Unlike prisoners in a penal colony, the Guantánamo detainees are not meant to be productive in the traditional sense. They are not there to fell trees, pick cotton, break stones or build roads. Nor will they ever compete with inmates on the mainland who earn pennies sewing jeans and operating call centres. Shackled to the floor, the detainees are farmed for intelligence in much the same way that the pharmaceutical industry ‘pharms’ animals for the production of drugs, or even organs for eventual human transplant. Not surprisingly, in countries where the combined effects of agricultural crisis and structural adjustment programmes have left hundreds of thousands destitute, people are farmed for organs—either voluntarily (the landless Indian farmer who sells a kidney to feed his family); or involuntarily (the Chinese prisoner whose execution will supply a wholesale harvest of organs).

Intelligence extracted from the Guantánamo prisoners is not a commodity like a kidney on the global organ market. Rather, it is cycled into the various agencies and institutions which produce security both in a material sense, along with infrastructures of personnel and weaponry, and as an ideology that suffuses our daily discourse. The cia, fbi, nsa, Pentagon and other agencies compete for access to intelligence as capitalist enterprises compete for other sorts of raw materials. The American public consumes security ideology much as it consumes 24-hour cable news. The levels of this security are closely monitored and its hourly fluctuations gauged in terms of how they affect stock-market portfolios. The suffering and mental breakdown of the tortured detainees is traded against the wellbeing of Middle America: they must stay there in order to preserve the peace and prosperity of the citizenry. Security has become America’s daily vitamin supplement.