From fascist prisons to Communist-era gulags, Romania does not simply have a history of torture, but also an existing infrastructure conducive to its practice. Romania, human rights organizations have made clear, hosted a number of ‘secret detention centers’ used by the US government in its program of ‘extraordinary rendition’, whereby intelligence agents illegally rendered, detained and tortured suspected terrorists. Both Romania’s gulags and its secret detention centers call to mind Giorgio Agamben’s notion of ‘the camp’ – an extra-juridical space where human life is reduced to its bare form – which is why this article pivots on a historical comparison between the two. While both gulags and extraordinary rendition share material infrastructure, and both were organized around the production and management of ‘bare life’, this article shows that rendition operates through a very different spatial logic than a gulag. As a result, survivors of these different spatial iterations of ‘the camp’ offer qualitatively different accounts of bare life. This observation allows ethnographers to extend Agamben’s analytical reach by spatially contextualizing the form, relations and kinds of violence taking shape inside ‘camps’, allowing theorists to think about bare life as a historically specific phenomenon.
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