USCB Center for Middle East Studies Presents
Guantanamo at 20
What We Haven't Learned from this Debacle
A Conversation with Lisa Hajjar
This event is part of the USCB Center for Middle East Studies Spotlight Lecture Series
My name is Sherene Seikaly and I am the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at UCSB. I am happy to welcome you all to this third event in the UCSB CMES Spotlight Series, which features the innovative research of the faculty and students that constitute our rich scholarly community across departments, initiatives, and programs at UCSB.
On 11 January 2002, the Bush administration established the Guantanamo detention facility as a laboratory for generating "actionable intelligence" through coercive interrogations. It began as an illegal enterprise. Guantanamo remained open through the Obama and Trump administrations, and the Biden administration is on the same course. Closing this detention laboratory would require acknowledging that it was and remains an abject failure for its own designated mission as well as a policy debacle with international implications. The pinnacle of this debacle is the 9/11 case in the Guantanamo military commissions in which five detainees are being prosecuted for their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks. Professor Lisa Hajjar will be discussing just this prosecution today. Her forthcoming book, The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight against Torture, will be published by the University of California Press this year.
But before I hand it over to Professor Hajjar, I wanted to share some advance praise from the group of us who have had the great gift of accompanying her on her journey:
From the group of us who built the online journal Jadaliyya and in the words of Hesham Sallam: Lisa Hajjar is the exemplar of the scholar who puts all her intellectual energy in service of progressive social change and never relents in speaking truth to power with so much nuance, eloquence, and wit. Our discussions of Guantanamo, torture, and the "US War on Terror" would not be the same if it were not for the incredible work and the courageous voice of Lisa Hajjar.
In the words of the inimitable scholar and author Richard Falk: "No one on the planet has done more than Lisa to expose the damage done since 9/11 to the American body politics by US practice of torture at Guantanamo and no author, academic or otherwise, has Lisa's gifts enabling her to bring together with vivid prose the interplay of law, state crime, and the heroic efforts of public interest lawyers to uphold the rights of these torture victims. Her book promises to be not only illuminating on these vital matters of national disgrace but also a needed healing antidote to the traumas of official response arising out of the 9/11 attacks."
From media scholar Jennifer Holt: Professor Hajjar is a force of nature and we are all so lucky she has dedicated the last ten years to realizing the true promise of this project. Once she has set herself on a path, it’s best to get out of the way. She stops for nothing and no one. And here we are at the finish line! Hajjar has brilliantly detailed this horrific chapter in US history for scholars, for interested observers, and for the public as only someone who has had a front-row seat to these proceedings could. The War in Court will light the way for future activists and researchers inspired by Lisa's unparalleled achievement, and for historians who will keep her teachings alive for generations to come.
From Global Studies scholar Paul Amar: Lisa Hajjar's The War in Court takes us on a journey to the heart of our nation's darkness factories. This book traces the origins of the twisted terror/torture dialectic through which the US come to embrace and even legalize "maximum pain" just as it framed geopolitics as an absolutist "war on terror." As Hajjar teaches us, the Pinochet Precedent in 1998 reminded the world that the "right not to be tortured" is, along with the "right not to be enslaved," as the most foundational of human rights that no sovereign, anywhere, can ignore. But then, two years after the Pinochet arrest, the US looked to Israel's legalization of torture during the mass detention of youth during the Intifada to provide a new model, ignore the torture prohibition, and draw inspiration to reopen Guantanamo Bay as a prison of terror where Military Commissions would hold court. This spellbinding book about the horrific erasure of human rights through coerced interrogations is narrated, surprisingly and invigoratingly, as a brilliant story of heroic lawyers, detainees, and journalists, who make the very most of legal spaces, contests, and contradictions.
And finally, from curator, art historian, and academic coordinator Shiva Balaghi, "After 20 years of research, 14 trips to Guantanamo, hundreds of interviews, a dozen notebooks filled with handwritten notes, and many months of sitting at the computer writing from dawn till late into the night, Lisa Hajjar has completed her magnum opus. Seldom does a scholar bring human compassion and academic rigor together as she has in this book. The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight against Torture is not just a detailed analysis of how the US government came to use and justify torture, those brave lawyers who fought the good fight, and the poor souls who suffered the unthinkable. It is, in some ways, a history of a nation that lost its way, charting a path for us once again to rededicate ourselves to justice for all."
Lisa Hajjar is a professor of sociology at the University of California – Santa Barbara. Her work focuses mainly on issues relating to law and conflict, including military courts and occupations, torture, targeted killing, war crimes, and human rights. Her publications include Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (University of California Press, 2005) and Torture: A Sociology of Violence and Human Rights (Routledge 2013).
Gehad Abaza, a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology department at UCSB. Her research interests include forced migration, state-formation, violence, racialization, and memory. Abaza has an MA in Sociology-Anthropology and a BA in Political Science, with a specialization in Middle East Politics from the American University in Cairo. Before pursuing her PhD at UCSB, she was a journalist and photographer in Egypt. "Building a House, Crafting a State: Syrian-Circassian Wartime Migration in Abkhazia"