Guantánamo: Seeing into the Dark Archive and Human Rights Oral History in our Times


This talk will explore the ethical, legal and constitutional issues that have arisen since the designation of Guantánamo Bay as a site of incarceration and torture for people suspected of terrorism against the United States, following the events of September 11, 2001.  In 2008 the Center for Oral History Research at Columbia University developed a large-scale oral history project on the legal, political, ethical and moral consequences of the US sanctioning of this prison.  The crisis engendered deep conversations on the consequences of the loss of habeas corpus, the implementation of sustained torture that was visible for the world to see, and the corruption of ethical associations such as the American Psychological Association through its support of government psychologists who contributed to the enhancement of torture techniques, as was revealed in our interviews and later made public by New York Times journalist James Risen. Reflecting on the creation of this ‘dark archive’ made up of over 350 hours of conversation with advocacy lawyers, judges, journalists, psychologists and former prisoners, I will attempt to answer the questions: 1) Why is oral history essential to understanding the disruptions of democracy, as well as its achievements? 2) How can the ‘archive’ represent those who are unseen and unheard, blindfolded from themselves and from us? And what is our role in interpreting the stories we collect and share? 3) What are the implications of constructing an archive on torture, in the country that has legitimized it?

Additional Events with Mary Marshall Clark:

March 1: Archival Fictions Seminar

March 2: Archives and Human Rights Working Group Lunch


Sponsored by the Archive and Human Rights Working Group with support from the Rapoport Center for Human Rights, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, Department of English, and Ellen Clayton Garwood Centennial Professorship in English.

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