Guantánamo Public Memory Project

Is Guantánamo a Panopticon?


During the last months I became very interested on the topic of Guantánamo Bay. Through books, articles, photographs and videos I became more and more aware of the violence that is committed against human beings that are held within that institution. While watching a documentary called: 4 days inside Guantánamo, I was shocked by the inhuman treatment of an underage boy, Omar Khadr, by Canadian intelligence officers that posed as people who tried to help but ended up blackmailing him. This shock led me to read a lot about Guantánamo and its function as an institution.

Guantánamo Bay was designed as a prison that would detain war criminals and extract from them information about terrorists. From the information I got, I saw that the evidence that linked detainees with alleged criminals, were infinitesimal. I started wondering then why in a world system that revolves around efficiency, an institution such as Guantánamo still functions? The failure is total. How is it then that in a world that revolves around monetary efficiency, an institution whose costs outweigh its benefits, still functions?

Perhaps the reason that Guantánamo still functions is that it has a covert function, not just the one that is communicated. To criticize Guantánamo Bay as an institution of power, I drew inspiration from Michel Foucault who devoted years of his life and work in criticizing how power was exerted by the function of institutions in society.

I started wondering if Guantánamo is a form of Panopticon. The similarities are indeed striking. The prisoners are under constant surveillance and seem to impose on themselves the norm according to which they ordered to behave. Through, constant surveillance and fear of punishment, prisoners slowly turn into what Foucault would describe as ‘docile bodies’.

But is such docility true or is it superficial? Is a detainee completely docile or is it just passive compliance? The difference between those two terms is that a docile person would behave the same way even if he was let out the institution. I highly doubt that a Guantánamo detainee would behave the same way he is ordered to, outside the institution. Such Inhuman treatment cannot be simply forgotten.

But still, the question of docility remains. If Guantánamo is a total failure regarding the detainees, what about those who are outside? A citizen that becomes aware of what happens in Guantánamo has a perpetual fear that something like that might happen to him. The threat of Guantánamo becomes so strong that leads not the detainees but those outside it to become docile bodies. Those outside haven’t experienced torture and maltreatment. Therefore, a lot of them are led to passive compliance. A disturbing manifestation of that is the attempt of some people to justify Guantánamo.

Guantánamo Bay can be seen as a Panopticon, whose docile bodies are not so much its detainees but those outside it. I’m afraid that this is the purpose that it serves and because it serves it so well, it still functions.

Submitted by a student from the University of Brighton


Creative: Picture Projects & Tronvig Group