Research Portfolio Post #1

In my initial proposal for my research this semester, I expressed interest in investigating the correlation between the United States’ questionable practices regarding prisoners of war, or ‘enemy combatants,’ and recruitment by terrorist organizations. I was fascinated by news coverage and books I had read about groups like Al-Qaeda posting footage of hostages dressed in orange jumpsuits in retaliation to the perceived injustices at Guantanamo Bay. In my policy memo for World Politics last year, I argued that the human rights violations committed by the United States at Guantanamo Bay make the country’s calls for nonviolence and peace less legitimate. It made sense to me that terrorist organizations would point to Guantanamo as a recruitment tool and I explained to my faculty mentor, Professor Banks, that this was my central research interest.

After some discussion of my broader interest in the United States’ history with controversial imprisonment of foreign nationals, Professor Banks pointed out that my interest in the relationship between imprisonment and recruitment was more of an assumption or conclusion than an open-ended question that I could attempt to answer. I came to realize what I was really interested in was the use of vague terminology allowing our government to treat human beings in ways that, in essence, violate the Geneva Conventions. Documentaries like Taxi to the Dark Side caused massive outcry from the American public regarding the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, yet there seems to be less concern over a similar situation in Guantanamo Bay. Is this due to the amount of media coverage on each circumstance or do Americans have some other differentiation between the two that makes Guantanamo Bay seem more justified?
Professor Banks suggested I focus either on the use and implications of terminology like “enemy combatant” as opposed to “prisoner of war” or on the more case-specific comparison of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. As of now, I have decided to focus on the latter. I have started looking at primary source material available in government documents in addition to reading more investigative books on each situation such as Torture and Truth by Mark Danner and My Guantanamo Diary by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan.

As mentioned, I am curious to uncover what domestic factors have allowed for such controversial practices. However, as an international studies major, I am also curious to learn how Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib have affected the United States’ standing with the rest of the world, whether or not that may include terrorist recruitment.

3 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #1

  1. hb7176a says:


    Danner, Mark. Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror. London: Granta, 2005.

    Khan, Mahvish Rukhsana. My Guantánamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me. New York: Public Affairs, 2008.

  2. Phoebe McAlevey says:

    Hi Hannah,

    Your current research framework looks like such a stimulating and vital topic, especially the dichotomy of defending American values abroad and torturing “enemies of the state” at home. Focusing on the intentionally vague language which allows this torture is an intriguing way to frame your potential hypothesizes/research question. Will you be comparing this language or torture or any of the other aspects you are looking at with those of different, democratic nations which have also engaged in torture?
    I look forward to seeing where your research will take you!

  3. You are off to a very good start, Hannah, with some good thoughts on the direction that your research might take. As you continue to think about and read about the topic area, I would encourage you to work on identifying the more specific outcome, trend, or state of affairs that you are aiming to understand and explain. Ultimately you are working towards a good “why…?” or “what explains…?” question that points to something that you want to explain (whether in one instance, a few, or many). Focusing on Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib is one potential route, but be careful about allowing the cases to define the question. What is the larger phenomenon or trend or outcome that you want to explain?

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