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Study Examines the Pathologization of Guantanamo Suicides

In an article published in International Political Sociology, author Alison Howell traces the psychological pathologization of the Guantanamo detainees//, noting that both advocates and resisters of the detainment accredit the attempted suicides to the impaired psyches of the suspects.

As the high prevalence of suicide attempts at the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center has come to light, two major responses have emerged: the United States military has presented the attempts as "manipulative self-injurious behavior," and not as true efforts at suicide, using them as examples of the alleged barbarity and inhumanness of the terrorist suspects. In contrast, humanitarian groups have argued that these attempts are the results of psychological deterioration resulting from detention.

Howell posits that the use of the "psy" disciplines (psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapeutics, etc.) by both the United States government and humanitarian organizations serves to categorize the Guantanamo detainees as being irrational madmen, which plays a part in the possibility of their infinite detention. Although humanitarian agencies aim to present the psychological states of the detainees as indicators of the abominable conditions of their detention, by presenting the attempted suicides as the result of impaired psychological functioning, they inadvertently play into notions of the detainees as being unstable and potentially dangerous. In this way, both governmental and humanitarian groups may contribute, albeit unintentionally, to continued detainment in much the same way that those deemed mentally ill may be involuntarily and indefinitely incarcerated.

“U.S. military representations of the detainees - or of purported "Islamic terrorists" more generally – as suicidal (and homicidal) fanatical madmen categorize the detainees in ways that make possible their excision from the global body politic in the form of indefinite detention,” argues Ho well, noting that “while human rights organizations have done excellent work in resisting these detentions, when such groups represented the detainees as suicidal depressive victims, they did little to dispel the construction of the detainees (or of Islam in general) as pathological and as deserving of excision.”


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