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Exceptional Sovereignty? Guantánamo Bay and the Re-Colonial Present

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The US government has presented Guantánamo Bay to the world through the lens of “exceptional sovereignty”. This argument holds that international law does not apply at Guantanamo because while America has “complete authority” over the base “ultimate sovereignty” rests with Cuba. Many accounts rightly critical of the abuses of power taking place at Guantanamo similarly understand it as something wholly abnormal—a literal “non-place”. But in falling back on this argument both the American position and many of its critics have tended to “black box” what is taking place within the camp. In this paper I suggest that we ditch any sort of critique that says Guantanamo is somehow outside of the law and instead replace this line of argument with a critical history of the deployment of a particular sort of Executive power there. From this perspective, Guantanamo is better understood as a rather more normal part of the current imperial moment and connected up in various ways to American imaginations and materialisations of power. As a way of exploring some of these connections in greater detail, I examine the construction of Guantanamo as a particular sort of social space by drawing upon the accounts of those who have been there: former guards, detainees and their defence lawyers.

Keywords: Guantánamo Bay; colonial history; space

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK;, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2007


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