The black flag: Guantánamo Bay and the space of exception

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Abstract

The American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay has often been described as a lawless space, and many commentators have drawn on the writings of Giorgio Agamben to formalize this description as a ‘space of exception’. Agamben's account of the relations between sovereign power, law and violence has much to offer, but it fails to recognize the continued salience of the colonial architectures of power that have been invested in Guantánamo Bay, is insufficiently attentive to the spatialities of international (rather than national) law, and is unduly pessimistic about the politics of resistance. Guantánamo Bay depends on the mobilization of two contradictory legal geographies, one that places the prison outside the United States ito allow the indefinite detention of its captives, and another that places the prison within the United States in order to permit their ‘coercive interrogation’. A detailed analysis of these interlocking spatialities — as both legal texts and political practices — is crucial for any crique of the global war prison. The relations between law and violence are more complex and contorted than most accounts allow, and sites like Guantánamo Bay need to be seen not as paradigmatic spaces of political modernity (as Agamben argues) but rather as potential spaces whose realization is an occasion for political struggle not pessimism.

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