Access: NBC News
Summary: Consider for a moment a patient whose brain activity has ceased but whose other organs continue to function uninterrupted. From the standpoint of modern science, the patient is merely a collection of interdependent biological mechanisms—one which pumps blood, one which oxygenates it, and another which filters it. Though once a person, the patient could now be deemed merely bare life, and as such, a physician could conceivably invoke a cardiac arrest without being accused of homicide. Prior to brain death, the patient lived a life which law sought to protect; a life that could not be killed without legal consequences. After brain death, the patient could be killed but no longer murdered. Giorgio Agamben, in his book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, examines the social movement of this biopolitical threshold, from a politically qualified life that is protected in law to one which is beyond law and can no longer be murdered. The protagonist of his book is homo sacer (the "sacred man," who may be killed and yet not sacrificed). In the book, Agamben is actually less concerned with patients facing brain death and what happens within the walls of hospitals, and instead, he focuses on the concentration camp, which he deems to be the absolute paradigm of modern political space. It is in the space of the camp where inhabitants' bodies are stripped of their status as citizens and reduced to bare life; their bodies become what is at stake in political strategy. They have no rights to legal counsel, for example, and are beyond the reach of habeas corpus. The above clip features an interview with Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, who was detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GITMO). Madni recounts his experience of being mistakenly captured and shipped to GITMO. He was kept in a refrigerated unit, and deprived of sleep. After 192 days of experiencing chronic pain, he finally unsuccessfully attempted suicide. As Agamben argues, he and the other detainees at GITMO have been reduced to bare life, each a homo sacer in that they occupy a biopolitical space where they are confronted by power without any protection or mediation. Their bodies are but biological mechanisms to be manipulated by power; to be tortured or even prevented from dying. Madni's testimony can be used to provoke discussion about concentration camps as spaces outside of law, and in particular, Giorgio Agamben's idea about the camp as a biopolitical space.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist