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.