This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
In the 2019 “Emergent Voices” edition of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, myself and Athena Chapekis (two student researchers for tPP) will have our work featured using the Prosecution Project (tPP) database. Our article, entitled “The prosecution of others: Presidential rhetoric and the interrelation of framing, legal prosecutions, and the Global War on Terror”, investigates the link between presidential rhetoric and the framing of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) in connection to the prosecution of “othered” and “non-othered” individuals.
“Othered”, in this context, refers specifically to individuals who are or appear to be Muslim, Arab/Middle Eastern, and/or foreign-born. We hypothesized the United States government will prosecute, charge, and sentence “othered” individuals more harshly than “non-othered” individuals and that this discrepancy in prosecution would be directly impacted by the framing of the GWOT by the United States’ presidential administrations.
In order to test this claim, we first created time blocks based on significant periods in the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama following 9/11. The first time block constituted immediate events in the five months following the 9/11 attacks (9/11/2001 – 02/08/2002). The events included the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” (AUMF) joint resolution (Congress 2001); the passage of the PATRIOT Act (Department of Justice 2001); and the authorization of military force in Afghanistan (Congress 2001). Notably, this block also saw the creation of the phrase “GWOT” as well as an increase in “othering” verbal rhetoric by George W. Bush (Hodges 2011). The second time block documented the remainder of the Bush administration (02/08/2002 – 01/20/2009). Events included the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (“The Iraq War” n.d.) and the economic sanctions against Syria (BBC News 2018). Most of the presidential rhetoric in this time block was based less on verbal statements of “othering” and more on military action within the Middle East. The third time block examined the Obama administration (01/20/2009 – 12/31/2016). This time block included events such as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2009 (Jaffe 2016); military initiatives in Syria (Obama 2013); and the establishment of the Islamic State’s Caliphate (Wilson Center 2016; BBC News 2018). Notably, Obama explicitly refrained from the use of “othering” language, but utilized military action in the Middle East. The actions of the presidential administrations served to strengthen the association of terrorism as a phenomenon inherent to Muslim, Arab/Middle Eastern, and/or foreign-born individuals through verbal statements, military action, and/or divisive administrative policies.
In order to test how these shifts in presidential rhetoric affected the prosecution and sentencing of “othered” versus “non-othered” individuals, we utilized the tPP dataset. We consolidated the codes of “Religion: Muslim”, “Ethnicity: Arab/Persian/Kurdish/Bedouin”, and “Citizenship: Non-United States Citizen” (specifically from a Middle Eastern country) to create a new code “ ‘Othered’ status”. If an individual fell into one or more of the above categories, then they were coded as “othered”. Using the date range described in the time blocks, we created a sub-dataset from 09/11/2001 to 12/31/2016 that included 520 double verified cases. We compared differences in “othered” and “non-othered” prosecutions in the three time blocks across the following variables of interest: length of sentencing, life sentence status, and number of people killed and injured by the crime.
Our original prediction that “othered” individuals would receive longer jail sentences than “non-othered” individuals was not supported by our findings. This can still be attributed, however, to the “othering” rhetoric of the Bush administration immediately post-9/11. According to the tPP dataset, the majority of these prosecutions were non-violent crimes, mostly immigration violations that resulted in deportation. These prosecutions corresponded to “terror sweeps” that occurred post-9/11, in which Arab/Middle Eastern and/or Muslim individuals in the United States were targeted by the government as “possible accomplices” to the 9/11 attacks (Akram and Karmely 2004). Almost all of the over 1,200 individuals taken into custody were found to have no ties to foreign terrorist organizations, and were either released free of charge or charged with felony immigration violations.
Interestingly, we did find that the prosecution of “othered” individuals significantly differed from “non-othered” individuals immediately after 9/11 and during the Obama years.
While we previously discussed how Bush’s rhetoric led to the “terror sweeps” post-9/11, there is less evidence to suggest a direct relationship between the maintenance of “othering” rhetoric in the latter Bush years and an increase in “othered” prosecution rates, as “othered” and “non-othered” individuals were prosecuted at similar rates. Moreover, Obama’s lack of othering rhetoric in speech did not correspond to a reduction of “othered” prosecutions; in fact, “othered” prosecutions not only increased, but increased differentially as compared to “non-othered” individuals. Further research may be needed to investigate the effects of direct speech as rhetoric versus indirect action as rhetoric in the legal prosecution of “othered” individuals.
Sarah Moore is a senior team member of the Prosecution Project and a former intern at Only Through US.
Akram, Susan M., and Karmely, Maritza. 2004. “Immigration and Constitutional Consequences of Post-9/11 Policies Involving Arabs and Muslims in the United States: Is Alienage a Distinction without a Difference?” U.C. Davis Law Review 38, no. 3: 609-700
BBC News. 2018. “Syria Profile,” April 24, 2018, sec. Middle East. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14703995.
Congress. 2001. Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf.
Department of Justice. 2001. “The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty,” October, 4. https://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/what_is_the_patriot_act.pdf
Hodges, Adam. 2011. The “War on Terror” Narrative: Discourse and Intertextuality in the Construction and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
Jaffe, Greg. n.d. “‘Tell Me How This Ends’: Obama’s Struggle with the Hard Questions of War.” Washington Post. Accessed April 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/obama-legacy/ending-war-in-iraq.html.
“The Iraq War.” n.d. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed April 29, 2018. https://www.cfr.org/timeline/iraq-war.
“Timeline: The Rise, Spread and Fall of the Islamic State.” 2016. Wilson Center. July 5, 2016. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/timeline-the-rise-spread-and-fall-the-islamic-state.