On January 11, marking twelve years of existence for the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Major General Michael Lehndert, who served as the complex’s first commanding officer, released the following statement:
Though we applaud the general’s courage in publicly expressing such strongly worded dissent, his statement implies that Guantanamo Bay is some sort of perverse aberration in the otherwise morally immaculate history of the republic. Yet every aspect of human rights abuse at Guantanamo Bay has descended through a long lineage, as documented by Alfred McCoy in his masterful analytical histories, A Question of Torture, and Torture and Impunity.
In his immensely important body of work, Giorgio Agamben examines rhythms of illegality and the reduction of citizens into “packages” as defining characteristics of the “state of exception”:
Beyond functioning as a site of incarceration and life extraction (“cleansing” subjects of their life experience, or the transformation of lebenswelt into “actionable intelligence”), Guantanamo Bay is also a Total Theater for the performance of domination over perceived or imagined enemies; a laboratory, generating a rich research environment for the theory and practice of “learned helplessness”; and a school, teaching a global populace that subjectivity (as expressed in a a life story for which each individual is the undisputed narrator) is precarious, fragile, and susceptible to sudden and absolute dissolution, reduction into a condition of Agamben’s “bare life”, or as life incessantly exposed to a meaningless death.
In the end, Guantanamo Bay signifies an experimental stage for impulses and rhythms within the soverign body that may soon become more generally manifest. Do you, DP reader, have any confidence at all in the sensual and political space that separates you and yours from the existential experience of Shaker Aamer? We are not in a territory of reclaiming or recuperating our “moral position”, difficult in any event for a republic based on the genocidal eradication of native cultures; no, the genesis of the state of exception is far deeper and more complex than that.
When the void become constitutive, forms of life that lay claim to the sanctity of autonomous subjectivity go up in smoke.