jeudi 1 avril 2010

# Guantanamo / An Architektur about Giorgio Agamben and the Camps

picture extracted from the 2006 film The Road to Guantanamo by Mat Whitecross

It's been one year and half that Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States, and although one of his very first proposition was to close Guantanamo, it seems that nobody is too much in a hurry to find a way to deal with people whose majority has not been proven to be guilty of anything.
Anyway, Guantanamo as a materialization of what Giorgio Agamben calls the state of exception is compelling for the importance of architecture to that matter. In the excellent book Territories. Islands, camps and other states of utopia, the German group An Architektur (see previous post) writes a very interesting article about Agamben and the notion of camp:

The number of people detained at Camp Delta now runs to 650. Their status is neither that of prisoners of war nor that of civilians. The US has skirted the Geneva Convention and international law by arbitrarily designating the prisoners as "Unlawful Enemy Combatants," to whom constitutional rights do not apply. The prisoners have no right to legal representation or to due process, and they can be detained indefinitely without concrete charges being filed. Guantanamo Bay's special judicial-spatial status allows the US to redefine and reinterpret laws as it sees fit. Guantanamo is a space whose conventional military significance has declined but which still serves the strategic interests of the US. There, a parallel legal system for suspected terrorists has been created, which was originally site-specific, but which is meanwhile also being applied outside of this unique territory.

Giorgio Agamben: The State of Emergency and the Notion of the Camp

Reflection is needed about the paradoxical status of the detainment camp in its quality as an exceptional space. It is part of a territory which stands outside the normal rule of law but which is not therefore an external space. What is excluded there [...] is actually included by virtue of its own exclusion. The state of emergency is what, above all else, is captured in the order of the camp. The right to declare a state of emergency is the basis of sovereign authority, and a camp is the structure that realizes a state of emergency in its most permanent form.
Giorgio Agamben. Means without End

Guantanamo Bay's shifting significance within a changing political order becomes apparent, when one considers Giorgio Agamben's investigations into the relationship between sovereignty, states of emergency and camps. Agamben offers a precise analysis of the new political space that opens up, when the political system of a nation state is beset by crisis, exploring the evolutions of various functions of power. In times of crisis, the relationship between sovereignty and territory, as well as the connection between law and space, are redefined. The previous structure of the nation-state, which is based on the functional coalescence of three elements (the laws of state, the territory in question and the membership of citizens in a given nation) begins to dissolve. Proceeding from his investigation of this process, Agamben develops a model of poer that unites judicial-institutional (sovereignty and state) with bio-political (corporeal punishment) aspects. The crucial connection is the constitutive conjunction of the estate of emergency as a legal category and the camp as its spatial manifestation.
The basis of the power of state is the capacity to decide whether to declare a state of emergency i.e. to temporarily suspend the rule of law. The decision affects both the binding legal system and its suspension. As part of the sovereign authority's decision-making capacity, the suspension of law, the state of emergency, is an inherent part of the legal order. Not only is lawlessness inherent in the legal system; the former is a precondition of the latter. However, as an abstract legal dimension, a state of emergency also needs a space in which it becomes concrete. For Agamben, this is the function of the camp. In the camp, the state of emergency, which was originally a temporary suspension of the legal system, gets a permanent spatial location. Camps are exceptional areas within a territory which fall outside the jurisdiction of law. Moreover, the camp is the place, where the bio-political dimension of sovereign power denying the detainee -for example in refugee or detention camps- all legal and political status, the state reduces them to complete judicial arbitrariness and absolute state power. By showing how a temporary or spatially limited state of how a new law is created from the lawlessness of the camp. The camp is a kind of catalyst, which transforms the suspension of law into a new, permanent, spatial and legal order.
Guantanamo is an example of how a political system no longer orders legal norms and practices within a concrete territory, but rather applies ex-territoriality as a constitutive element in the maintenance of its own power. Ex-territoriality as a spatial category refers to places which are located outside of a state's borders and its legal system, but which are nonetheless under the control of its sovereign authority. The suspension of law is transformed there from a provisional measure into a permanent technique of rule. The increase in power of the executive, which exercises sovereign authority, not only leads to the loss of the absence of rights into the constitutive element of the new legal order. The state of emergency, which is manifested in various forms of ex-territoriality, becomes the new regulator of the system. It takes its place along side the state, territory and the nation as the fourth element of the political order.

Oliver Clemens, Jesko Fezer, Kim Forster, Sabine Horlitz (AN ARCHITEKTUR). for Territories. Islands, camps and other states of utopia. KW 2003

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