Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Baha Mousa, Shattered Zoe

Mumbling about Baha Mousa, Giorgio Agamben, Niklas Luhmann and Gunther Teubner: Politics, Law, Zoe, Rights and Consciousness

Baha Mousa and Basra adventure mates. Nine men have been tortured, one to death. [1] Only ‘Corporal Payne’ has been condemned (court martial for war crimes) to one year imprisonment (the proceedings of the cases have been characterised by substantial lack of evidence). On July 10th, the Ministry of Defence has ‘awarded’ a £2.83m compensation. Shall a breath of relief be released, shall the event be greeted as justice for the hurt being finally made in/by Britain?

Incidentally, what a big-hearted settlement: Taxpayers pay. What is the response/ responsibility/ accountability… towards the citizens? What is a state, what is a nation? Really are the citizens ultimately the guilty? Yet guilt is not a fashionable concept. What is politics? I feel like defining power today. I define power as the possibility of getting away with it. After all, similarly thinks Agamben, about the state of exception…[2]

Thinking of Luhmann,[3] thinking of the dodgy conundrum of law (especially, the vertical law) and politics. Law generating normative expectations. Normalisation... But l’eccezione conferma la regola! The exception confirms the norm. The Ministry of Defence has admitted the ‘breach of human rights’. This formulation makes me queasy. I try to understand why. It is a sudden glance, and human rights law appears now as regulating bare life, the homines sacri. It is a paradox. Bios, political life without flesh and blood,[4] is the juridical subject, the social – and more specifically legal – communication. This occurs abstracting it from zoe, the bare life. Thence zoe is abandoned!

Thence the utmost heinous crimes (intended, unnecessary, sadistic, prolonged) are neutralised. In particular, the army systemic logic is quintessentially based on the notion of bare lives, of homines sacri, the spendibililty of life. The war (extra) territory (the no man’s land!), reminds me the theatrum politicum, the theatre of bare life staged by de Sade in the “120 Days of Sodom.” As Agamben read it, in such theatre the very physiological life of bodies appears, through sexuality, as the pure political element. The political realm par excellence emerges in the maisons. There, every citizen can publicly summon any other citizen in order to compel him to satisfy his own ‘needs’.[5]

And I also wonder about the inconsistency of rights, their changing in vertical law (constitutional law, international human rights law), horizontal law (criminal law, law of war??)…

I cannot but see (or, rather, self-observe, introspect…) a zoe in shatters!!

[1] See E.g.,,
[2] See E.g. Agamben, Giorgio, 1998, Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Heller-Roazen, Daniel, transl., Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press
[3] See E.g., Luhmann, Niklas, 1995, Social Systems, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
[4] Also cf. Gunther Teubner's account in Teubner, Gunther, 2006, “The Anonymous Matrix: Human Rights Violations by ‘Private’ Transnational Actors, 69(3) Modern Law Review, 327-346
[5] Agamben, cit., at 134-5