Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps since World War II

A book cover. A man stands between two tall, gray walls, turning to look back at the viewer, while another man stands despondently in the background. The sky overhead is dark red, with orange clouds. A watchtower looms overhead. Text reads: "Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since WWII." Author A. Naomi Paik.

A. Naomi Paik


Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since World War II is the 2018 winner of Best Book in History from the Association of Asian American Studies. "A conceptually brilliant analysis of U.S. racial state power and political subjectivity... an outstanding exemplar of the bold and innovatively comparative work that characterizes much of the very best scholarship in Asian American history and, more broadly, Asian American Studies."

In this bold book, A. Naomi Paik grapples with the history of U.S. prison camps that have confined people outside the boundaries of legal and civil rights. Removed from the social and political communities that would guarantee fundamental legal protections, these detainees are effectively rightless, stripped of the right even to have rights. Rightless people thus expose an essential paradox: while the United States purports to champion inalienable rights at home and internationally, it has built its global power in part by creating a regime of imprisonment that places certain populations perceived as threats beyond rights. The United States' status as the guardian of rights coincides with, indeed depends on, its creation of rightlessness.

Yet rightless people are not silent. Drawing from an expansive testimonial archive of legal proceedings, truth commission records, poetry, and experimental video, Paik shows how rightless people use their imprisonment to protest U.S. state violence. She examines demands for redress by Japanese Americans interned during World War II, testimonies of HIV-positive Haitian refugees detained at Guantánamo in the early 1990s, and appeals by Guantánamo’s enemy combatants from the War on Terror. In doing so, she reveals a powerful ongoing contest over the nature and meaning of the law, over civil liberties and global human rights, and over the power of the state in people's lives.