Study of the phenomenon of political imprisonment, a favorite ploy of authoritarians throughout history.
Political prisoners have been with us since the pharaohs, but that long history is checkered. As Kenney (History and International Studies/Indiana Univ.; 1989: Democratic Revolutions at the Cold War's End, 2009, etc.) observes, “political incarceration is likely to fail to achieve its goals”; instead, it often brings notoriety to the person being imprisoned and generates sympathy and a large audience for the letters, manifestos, and books that seem inevitably to follow. Traveling widely in search of examples—including the well-known cases of Bobby Sands and his fellow Irish Republican Army hunger strikers in British jails and Nelson Mandela on South Africa’s Robben Island—Kenney demonstrates how thorough some of those failures have been. As he notes in opening, “is there any figure in the contemporary world who inspires greater respect than the political prisoner?” In what is assuredly an unintended consequence, this holds true even in the case of the prisoners housed at Guantánamo Bay, whom Kenney characterizes as political detainees: as he notes, imprisonment has given these disparate men a shared experience and politics. Many of the nations that provide case studies have stopped the practice of imprisoning their enemies merely for opposing the regime. Britain, Poland, and South Africa emptied out their prisons of such internees a couple of decades ago; we know how things turned out with Lech Walesa and Mandela, while it’s anyone’s guess how Sands might have fared as a civil politician. Since political imprisonment is seldom successful, one wonders why governments indulge in it at all, especially given, too, the dangers of doing so. In the words of an imprisoned Islamist to his American captor, “Nobody survives Guantanamo. You won’t survive, either.”
A provocative, well-argued view of practices mostly abandoned by the nations of the world save for a few—the U.S. notable among them.