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Visualising Silence: Re articulating the role of ‘enemy combatant’ in the War on Terror

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Abstract

The rhetoric surrounding the War on Terror marks out the boundaries between friend and enemy so clearly that there is little or no room for ambiguity, nuance or complexity. As a consequence of the uncompromising with-us-or-against-us nature of US foreign policy even minor forms of dissent are represented within dominant popular narratives as being unpatriotic at best, and downright criminal at worst. These antagonistic divisions make it particularly difficult to articulate a coherent and cohesive public response to the detention of ‘enemy combatants’. This paper will examine some of the ways in which human rights activists use the iconography of Guantanamo Bay to disrupt mainstream understandings of ‘enemy combatants’. In particular, it will argue that activist’s use of photogenic and ideologically potent visual images create a sense of Guantanamo as an elsewhere that is meaningful and politically connected to the here and now, and suggest that this contestation of dominant archetypes contributes to the re negotiation of antagonistic friend/enemy distinctions. These arguments will be illustrated by an analysis of the Brighton based Save Omar Campaign . It will focus on the campaign’s use of the black hood as an iconic symbol of injustice and argue that the hood creates a potentially transformative political space by calling into being the men who have been incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. It will suggest that by signifying the presence of absence the hood contributes to the re articulation of the antagonistic us/them distinctions which constitute much of the rhetoric surrounding the War on Terror. It will conclude by suggesting that this disruption of friend/enemy boundaries enables enemy combatants to begin repositioning themselves within the dominant narratives of conflict as part of an included and cared for ‘us’