The U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay has, over the last 11 years, become much more than a place. In the sphere of U.S. domestic politics, it is an irresolvable problem over which pitched partisan battles have been fought. Its continued existence is a snarl in the larger geopolitical fabric, an irritant that constantly recalls the role of the United States in theorizing and proliferating a state of global war.
While specific debates over the territory of Guantanamo and the fates of the people still imprisoned there remain urgent, larger discussions of Guantanamo qua policy or politics must admit the broader reach and influence of Guantanamo the idea.
In this commissioned web project for Creative Time Reports, the experimental archive Index of the Disappeared—our collaborative, ongoing exploration of the costs of post-9/11 detention, secrecy and disappearance—provides a portal into some of its current research, centered around Guantanamo as both a reality in place and an idea in circulation. Like the physical archive maintained by Index of the Disappeared, this web project uses idiosyncratic categories and descriptors to trace new relationships between existing documents, and pays close attention to slippages in usage of language and definition of terms as well as omissions, ruptures or oddities in the records. A given strand of research might highlight anything from the assurances against torture proffered by the Ben-Ali and Qaddafi governments in order to secure individual transfer agreements for Tunisian and Libyan detainees, to the link between three reported suicides at Guantanamo in 2006 and an affidavit about “dryboarding” filed at a Charleston naval brig during the same period, to the refusal of Democratic senators to sign a Senate Armed Services Committee report on recidivism.
This digital archive has been visualized as a rhizomatic, relational, hyperlinked card catalogue. Each card stack contains one topic card, under which are tabbed subtopic cards. When a topic card is clicked, a related image or image sequence appears (including courtroom drawings, portraits and other images created for the Index, and diagrams from official documents and military field manuals). When a subtopic card is clicked, a detail view of the card appears, revealing a text fragment that has been abstracted from relevant documents in the archive. When the text card is hovered over or clicked, an informational card will appear (if more information is available). Each informational card contains notes on its subject, cross-references to other topics and subtopics and a series of links to relevant items from the Index archive or related online projects: primary source documents, first-person narratives, reports or analysis by third parties and/or audio recordings. The linked information represents a broad cross-section of publicly available archival resources—a mix of the official and the mundane that includes autopsies, affidavits, correspondence, interviews, invoices, legal analysis, media accounts, NGO reports, transcripts, testimony, treaties and more.
Again like the Index’s physical archive, this web project is an open-ended work, which will change from week to week as more resources or layers are added, reflecting the emergence of new information in the context of existing information. We do not pretend to possess a complete understanding of Guantanamo and all of its effects. But we hope to map our present understanding of both the “known knowns” and “known unknowns” that flow in and out of Guantanamo Bay, while gesturing toward what still remains in the realm of “unknown unknowns.”
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