Guantánamo Bay: a Palimpsest of Carceral Violence

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As Barack Obama approaches the end of his presidency, the question of what to do with the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay and its remaining 107 prisoners has re-emerged in public debate. If it endures past his last day in office, it will tarnish his legacy with an unfulfilled promise, one he made on his first day in office nearly eight years ago, to shutter the camp. But even if his administration were able to find a way to end the camp at last, the history of the Guantánamo shows that this site nevertheless remains ready to host carceral camps, sites of spatial and legal removal from the political communities that could guarantee what Hannah Arendt called their essential “right to have rights.” While this corner of Cuba is now notorious for its use under the War on Terror, it had been used to indefinitely detain captives before, notably in the early 1990s when it held HIV positive Haitian refugees. And its prolonged and recurring deployment as a site for camps is rooted in a legal ambiguity that to this day remains unresolved.