Sen. Lindsey Graham: Gen. Cartwright, you're in Afghanistan. You walk up on a bunch of Taliban guys that are asleep. Do you have to wake them up before you shoot them?
Gen. Cartwright: No.
Sen. Graham: Why?
Gen. Cartwright: Because it's an area of hostility and he's a legitimate target or they are.
Sen. Graham: Mr Bergen [Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, also testifying as an expert witness at the hearing], that's the point. Once you're designated an enemy, we don't have to make it a fair fight. We don't have to wake you up if we're going to shoot you.
For footage of this exchange, see 3.07-3.44 of the following clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF-w83crGA4
'We don't have to wake you up if we're going to shoot you'. There is a certain brutal unanswerability to the Senator's logic. Why bother extending the sleeper the courtesy of waking him up if he is going to be instantly dispatched back into the permanent sleep of death? Underpinning this exchange between the Senator and the General is the assumption that Taliban members are a species of what Giorgio Agamben calls 'bare life' -- that is, they have no political selfhood, no entitlement to the machinery of representation and justice, and are automatically 'killable' in the eyes of a regime that enjoys sovereign power over life and death. Also underpinning this exchange is the assumption that there is an absolute continuity between waking and sleeping selfhood. A Taliban is still a Taliban in his sleep -- provided that he is found sleeping in 'an area of hostility'. Or, to put it another way, sleeping in the wrong place is enough to qualify a person for membership of the Taliban.
What parts of ourselves do we set aside, and what parts do we retain, when we fall asleep? And to what extent does the location of our sleep influence these continuities and discontinuities? It is unlikely that a Senate Hearing will be the place where such questions are answered, but it is rare to see them raised with such chilling finality.