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Bodily Destruction, Bodily Empowerment: A Year of Detainee Resistance at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

  • Author(s): Sandoval, Mathew
  • Advisor(s): Gere, David
  • et al.

My dissertation covers the 2005-2006 resistance movement staged by detainees at our military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in which hundreds of detainees took collective action against detention conditions and mistreatment. In reconstructing the history of this movement I analyze issues of power and the body by focusing on detainee hunger strikes and suicides. I argue that insofar as Gitmo functions as a continuation of war by other means, where the site of contestation is the detainee body, the hunger strikes and suicides are simultaneously forms of self-destruction and self-empowerment in which detainees shuffle off their subjugation and seize their bodies back from military control. Furthermore, I maintain that forms of embodied resistance performed by detainees are more than symbolic actions aimed at publicizing their suffering, they are physical interventions that disrupt camp operations and challenge the military's biopolitical and disciplinary strategies, all while building collectivity and community among detainees across nationality, ethnicity, race, class, and language.

My dissertation puts forward a much-needed alternative history of Guantanamo. Although there exists a wide literature examining Guantanamo in terms of foreign policy, legal precedent, and human rights, there's been no extensive coverage dedicated to the ways detainees challenge their detention. This leaves us with an insufficient analysis of Guantanamo. By focusing on detainee resistance and approaching detainees as subjects with agency, I not only fill a gap in the literature, I overturn long-standing paradigms that formulate detainees as either dehumanized evil enemies or dehumanized helpless victims.

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