From Front Lines to Fun Runs: Revitalizing the Exception in Official Discourse at Guantánamo Bay

Accepted!!! Critical Military Studies

When the detention program at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) started in 2002, the Bush administration described it as an essential front in the War on Terror. A few years later, the program was widely seen as a liability. As political discourse about GTMO grew more critical, how did the detention program’s official discourse evolve? What does this discourse tell us about the endurance of states of exception? Scholarship on GTMO emphasizes the exceptional status of the site, but often overlooks the broader military system of which the base is one part, as well as the ways GTMO has changed over time. To examine changes in the official discourse of the detention program, this article undertakes visual and discourse analysis of 438 issues of The Wire, the official newspaper of the program. The analysis identifies various changes, most notably that the newspaper switched format in late 2006, from military bulletin to lifestyle magazine. The Wire shifted from situating GTMO on the front lines of the War on Terror, to characterising the base as a site of recreation. The Wire also changed from emphasizing the exceptional events of the War on Terror, to situating the detention program within a longer history of unending conflict. These changes revitalised the exception of indefinite detention and perpetual warfare. This study shows that systems of exceptional violence are perpetuated not just through banal, normalising processes, but also through discourses of leisure, therapy, and personal achievement.

The Crime and State Terrorism Nexus: How Organized Crime Appropriates Counterinsurgency Violence

Perspectives on Terrorism 13, 6. 2019

Studies on the connections between organized crime and terrorism tend to focus on non-state armed groups, and on the convergence of violent tactics. This article demonstrates that such a focus can overlook well-documented connections between state terrorism and organized crime. Particularly in post-Cold War Latin America, criminal groups recruit violence specialists from military and paramilitary units with histories of using indiscriminate violence and other forms of terrorism during counterinsurgency campaigns. Through this recruitment process, tactics of state terrorism are appropriated into the repertoires of criminal groups.

This article demonstrates this process with a case study of the Zetas in Mexico, which was the first group in the country to actively recruit soldiers with counterinsurgency training. By doing so, the group caused a paradigm shift in criminal operations in the country, leading to the widespread adoption of terrorist tactics. This case study highlights the need for scholars of terrorism and organized crime to bring state terrorism back in, and to more thoroughly examine the points of contact between state and non-state terrorism. 

Working Papers

“Grammar of Threat: The Social Vision of Criminal Messages in Colombia and Mexico”
Co-authored with Shauna Gillooly

“The Implications of Illicit Networks for Changes in Anti-Narcotics Policies”
Co-authored with Desmond Arias

Commentary & Analysis

The Battles After the Battle: Interpreting Violence and Memory in Culiacán.” Co-editor, October 2020
Introduction: Revisiting the Interpretive Frenzy.” Mexico Violence Resource Project
Introducción: Reconsiderando el festín interpretativo.” Revista Espejo

In Defense of Zombies
Political Violence at a Glance, July 2020

The Jakarta Method Comes to Latin America (book review)
NACLA, May 2020

Narco-terrorism Charges Against Maduro and the “Cartel of the Suns”
NACLA, April 2020

Revisiting the Battle of Culiacán
NACLA, November 2019

López Obrador’s Public Enemy Number One
NACLA, February 2019