Despite its universal and absolute prohibition in international human rights and humanitarian law, torture has persisted even in liberal democracies. This chapter traces how changing national security legal cultures have shaped justifications for torture in the United States, culminating in an extensive torture program in the global war on terror. A culture of exception helped legitimize slave torture, lynching, and colonial torture through much of the United States’ early history, while a culture of secrecy facilitated covert and proxy torture during the Cold War. After 9/11, American authorities operated in a culture of legal rationalization. Rather than suspend or ignore the torture prohibition, the Bush administration sought legal cover for torture. As evidenced by the torture memos, lawyers reframed practices such as waterboarding as lawful enhanced interrogation techniques. These attempts to construct the plausible legality of torture effectively immunized Americans from prosecution for grave human rights violations.
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.