Global Carceral States and the “War on Terror”

Lisa Hajjar, Leila Zonouzi and Alejandro Prado present on the works of the Transnationalizing the Study of the United States research cluster

Director of the Orfalea Center, Paul Amar, gives opening remarks

On April 28th the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, directed by Prof. Paul Amar, hosted its finale in a series of research cluster presentations. Our final cluster, “Transnationalizing the Study of the United States” was a thought-provoking send-off for an amazing Orfalea programming month. Speaking at the event were Drs. Lisa Hajjar (Dept. of Sociology), Alejandro Ollin Prado (UC Riverside), and PhD student Leila Zonouzi (Dept. of Global Studies). Absent, but crucial to the work of the cluster is Dr. Terrance Wooten (Dept. of Black Studies)

The focus of this cluster recently has been to understand how the United States has impacted world politics today as a result of the “war on terror.” In line with their transnational emphasis, they focus on how the political and intellectual bodies within the Middle East and Latin America have responded, interacted, collaborated, and criticized the implications of the “war on terror” in regards to international affairs/regional politics and international law/human rights. Their current focus is on: security and surveillance, terror and counter-terror, resistance, and rationalization of violence. Their goal is to build intellectual transnational connections with research centers, community organizations, and think tanks in the Global South.

The research produced by this cluster has been supported through major funding from the Carnegie Corporation, as well as supported by our collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network, in addition to the the Paul Orfalea Endowment itself.


Dr. Lisa Hajjar speaking at the Transnationalizing the Study of the US research cluster presentations

Originally the cluster came out of Lisa’s own work on thinking about the global and transnational impact of the United States, particularly in the post-9/11 era. However, the idea really matured during her time as a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. This is explained in the introductory video of the cluster on the Orfalea website, which can be seen here.

There, she said, “something called Transnational American Studies was really taking off. It was this idea – which I have tried to bring into the cluster – [that we need to] think about the United States, not from a US centric position, but rather seeing how the United States looks through other kinds of lenses, particularly the lenses of activists, institutions or parts of the world where the US impact has been intense, and oftentimes deleterious” This involves thinking about the ways in which US policies have had  transformative effects on government policies, on activist responses, on narratives, and legalities.

One of the core components of a research cluster is its collaborative work with Global South partners. Though absent, Terrance spoke in the introductory video. He spoke to our focus on collaborative engagement and knowledge production. He told us how the hub approaches the notion of “study” when thinking about transnationalizing “the study” of the US or anything else. In this video he said

“We’ve created a space to reimagine what knowledge production looks like, who’s part of knowledge production, questions of engaging, questions of pedagogy, and of community engaged practices.” He continued, saying that the hub has acted as a meeting space for us to rethink how we have relations with the Academy and how we have relations with scholarship. “We’re not imposing very particular, often Western, ways of thinking about knowledge production and who counts as someone who can do this work or not. Our global partnerships have been really instrumental in modeling for others the kinds of relationships that are necessary to work through these conversations.”

The cluster has been very intentional about what voices are being centered, and being sure to acknowledge that community members are experts and knowledge producers as well, and can definitely be the ones teaching us. “We’ve also created a more democratic process for thinking about power relations within our cluster. And that is so important to what it means to transnational study,” said Terrence. It is through this collaboration and through this learning from community members that can facilitate the most knowledge production. It is Why Lisa Hajjar stated “One of the things that is interesting about working collaboratively in this research cluster is that our own ideas and conceptions can evolve through the very actions and projects that we develop.”


Global Carceral States: Violence, Transgressions, and Technologies of Imprisonment

At the cluster presentation, Leila, Lisa and Alejandro spoke about the Global Carceral States: Violence, Transgressions, and Technologies of Imprisonment conference they worked on. This conference was born out of collaboration between the Orfalea Center and our Global South partner The Muwatin Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. Specifically working with now Dr. Basil Farraj. As is stated on our cluster website “The Muwatin Institute is housed at Birzeit University in Ramallah, Palestine where they work to explore the definition of democratic systems and human rights in all its inherent complications and paradoxes. Muwatin strives to provide the space for intellectual inquiries on fundamental issues that concern the Palestinian people as they work collectively towards deconstructing colonialism and hegemony and constructing our national liberation. Partnering with Muwatin allowed the research cluster to begin to explore how the ‘war on terror’ is understood from the perspective of the Middle East.”

The Global Carceral States: Violence, Transgressions, and Technologies of Imprisonment conference was a 3-day virtual conference held May 28th – 30th, 2021, translated into English, Arabic and Spanish. You can view the conference on the Orfalea Center’s YouTube page. The conference uploads boast 12 ½ hours of content and are split up into the three different days- Day 1; Day 2; Day 3. Video of the conference is also available online through other sources.

The conference had three distinguished keynote speakers – the day 1 address was given by Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Guantanamo Inside and Out: One Man’s Tale of Violence, Survival, and the Redemptive Power of Writing; day 2 – Aida Seif el-Dawla, Prisons in Egypt: Punishment and Ongoing Violations; day 3 – Corina Giacomello, Women Children and Prison: The Gender Dimensions of Incarceration in Latin America. You may see the entire conference program, including speakers and topics, here. 

As is stated on our website, The conference sought to “reflect upon the current globalized carceral reality, and on imprisonment as a tactic of control, subjugation and dispossession. It presented an opportunity for scholars to contribute to our understanding of prisons, torture, violence, securitization and carcerality. It invited engagement with the wide range of resistance tactics and transgressions that prisoners, worldwide, devise against state policies and incarcerating regimes.”

However, this conference was not simply just informative or interesting, as most conferences are. It goes further, as explained by the Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, Dr. Paul Amar. Once again, collaborative knowledge production is the focus. “This is, in a sense, an inaugural conference of a new methodology for hosting collaborative research at UC Santa Barbara. [It is] shifting from an institution that focuses mostly on providing funds for visiting scholars and for providing conferences in  a standard in-place format towards investing almost all of our resources in partnerships like the one with the ‘Muwatin Institute’ in Palestine, in order to collaboratively generate knowledge that we then archive and distribute in useful ways,” Amar said in the introduction video.

Global-e journal publications

Leila Zonouzi and Alejandro Prado discussing their work at the Orfalea Center cluster presentations

Other collaborative productions can be seen in the publication of articles on the global-e journal by Leila, Alejandro and Basil Farraj. At the presentation Leila and Alejandro discussed a joint article they wrote for the global-e journal. The article is entitled The War on Terror Paradigm and Intersecting Contemporary Civil Uprisings. Crucial to this piece is the understanding of a term coined by Lisa Hajjar, the “War on Terror Paradigm” (WTP). In the linked article by Leila and Alejandro, Lisa explained that The War on Terror Paradigm (WTP) refers to the legitimization and implementation of a violence and warfare which ignores and reinterprets International Humanitarian Laws, namely the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

2020 Black Lives Matter protester in Portland, Oregon. (Image credit: Noah Berger Photography)

The authors summarize this piece on the Orfalea Center website as such. “In the past decade, protests have erupted across the world in separate and seemingly isolated contexts. While different in cause and organization, what these global mass-uprisings have in common are the ways they were met with ‘legal’ violence at the hands of the ruling elite. To contextualize their intersections and continuities of power and counterpower, we focus on repressive state responses to the Middle East and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the 2010s and 2020 respectively, grounding these responses within the theoretical framework of the War on Terror Paradigm (WTP) to argue for the global interconnections of repression. Our focus on the Middle East and Portland, Oregon is an exploratory case study that demonstrates the applicability of the WTP as a means to identify the intersections of transnational, national, and temporally different contexts.”

While not present, Dr. Basil Farraj, the Global South partner and research collaborator of the Orfalea Center, also produced a piece for the global-e journal. His piece is entitled Understanding Israeli Torture: Containing the Ever-Present Threat.

An activist depicts torture techniques used on Palestinians on the U.N.-sponsored International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2004 in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Getty Images)

 The Orfalea Center describes it as such: “The criminalization of forms of Palestinian civic and political conduct is a natural product and a constituting function of Israeli military orders (detailing permissible and punishable Palestinian conduct) and military courts (where Palestinians from the West Bank are trialed).  Maintaining ‘public order’ and ensuring ‘security’ are guiding outcomes of military orders, and of the functioning of military courts. While never referring to potential offenders as Palestinians, military orders (re)produce the Palestinian as an inherently dangerous subject: a ‘security offender’ towards whom appropriate legal mechanisms must be put in place to ensure compliance and severely punish subjects when ‘deviances’ take place. Israel’s innovative category of ‘security prisoners’ sets the ground for the vast array of violent practices that Palestinians face during each stage of their detention, interrogation, and imprisonment processes, and the policies designed to manage their conduct.”

Transnational Guantanamo

In terms of next steps, Dr. Hajjar discussed her desire to use ideas developed in the cluster and build off her recently published book, “The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight against Torture”. This is a historic, fierce, must-read book. As University of California Press, in describing the book, states, “Lisa Hajjar traces the fight against US torture policy by lawyers who brought the ‘war on terror’ into courts. Their victories…forced the government to change the way prisoners were treated and focused attention on state crimes perpetrated in the shadows…The War in Court clearly outlines why challenges to the torture policy had to be waged on the legal terrain and why hundreds of lawyers joined the fight. Drawing on extensive interviews with key participants, her own experiences reporting from Guantánamo, and her deep knowledge of international law and human rights, Hajjar reveals how the ongoing fight against torture has had transformative effects on the legal landscape in the United States and on a global scale.”

At the end of the cluster presentation, Lisa talked about continuing her work on Guantanamo based on some ideas developed in the hub. She talked about how Guantanamo itself becomes a permanent address of torture and all the manipulations of law, and how Guantanamo is not confined to a lone base in Cuba, but how Guantanamo itself is transnationalized. These ideas will form the basis of future work.

The research produced by this cluster has been supported through major funding from the Carnegie Corporation, as well as supported by our collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network, in addition to the the Paul Orfalea Endowment itself.

Page Editor

Omar Mansour
Omar Mansour
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