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Talking About Torture

Talking About Torture: How Political Discourse Shapes the Debate

Jared Del Rosso
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Talking About Torture
    Book Description:

    When the photographs depicting torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were released in 2004, U.S. politicians attributed the incident to a few bad apples in the American military, exonerated high-ranking members of the George W. Bush administration, promoted Guantánamo as a model prison, and dismissed the illegality of the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation." By the end of the Bush administration, members of both major congressional parties had come to denounce enhanced interrogation as torture and argue for the closing of Guantánamo.

    What initiated this shift? InTalking About Torture, Jared Del Rosso reviews transcripts from congressional hearings and scholarship on denial, torture, and state violence to document this wholesale change in rhetoric and attitude toward the use of torture by the CIA and the U.S. military during the War on Terror. He plots the evolution of the "torture issue" in U.S. politics and its manipulation by politicians to serve various ends. Most important,Talking About Tortureintegrates into the debate about torture the testimony of those who suffered under American interrogation practices and demonstrates how the conversation continues to influence current counterterrorism policies, such as the reliance on drones.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53949-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-X)
    (pp. XI-XX)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the final question of the first presidential debate of 2008, Jim Lehrer asked the two major party candidates—Senators John McCain and Barack Obama—to evaluate the likelihood of “another 9/11-type attack on the continental United States.”¹ In place of prognoses, both candidates offered optimism tinged with insecurity: the nation had become “safer” since September 11, 2001, but “we are far from safe” (Senator McCain) and “we still have a long way to go” (Senator Obama). Why the ambivalence? In their responses, the candidates cited torture:

    McCain: We’ve got to … make sure that we have people who are...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Torture Word
    (pp. 17-33)

    On may 4, 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held a press briefing on the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. During the briefing, Rumsfeld was asked about U.S. use of torture: “Mr. Secretary, a number of times from the podium you’ve said U.S. troops do not torture individuals … does this report undercut your notion that the U.S. doesn’t torture?” Rumsfeld responded:

    My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture … I don’t know if … it is correct to say what you just...

    (pp. 34-61)

    On april 28, 2004, CBS broadcast photographs showing U.S. soldiers abusing detainees held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.¹ Taken, predominantly, by Americans working the night shift of Tier 1A, a cellblock reserved for high-value detainees, the photographs showed soldiers posing with naked detainees and, most famously, a hooded detainee standing on a box, arms by his side and electrical wires running from his body to the wall.

    Eight days after the release of the first photographs, President George W. Bush offered an apology to the king of Jordan and publicly recounted, “I told him I was sorry for the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Isolating Incidents
    (pp. 62-76)

    In may 2004, the bush administration confronted a political crisis provoked by revelations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. In the months leading up to the November presidential election, the crisis threatened the tenure of Bush’s Secretary of Defense, and John Kerry appeared primed to make Abu Ghraib a campaign issue.¹ By October, however, the Abu Ghraib scandal had lost much of its political resonance. During the three presidential debates, torture was mentioned only once—by President Bush and in reference to the human rights violations of Saddam Hussein.² Abu Ghraib and the broader issues of detainee abuse and...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Sadism on the Night Shift: ACCOUNTING FOR ABU GHRAIB
    (pp. 77-94)

    Over the course of the Senate Armed Services Committee (in this chapter, the committee) 2004 hearings on U.S. detention operations, military and civilian officials consistently stated that no policy, directive, or order permitted the photographed abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Against the current of this claim, a small group of senators, consisting predominantly, but not exclusively, of Democrats, argued that the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison resulted from the policy decisions of high-ranking military officials. These accounts rested on a controversial phrase and an equally controversial set of documents.

    The controversial phrase was “set the conditions.” It referred...

    (pp. 95-129)

    Over the course of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s seven hearings on Abu Ghraib, a core group of Republican Senators, Democrat Bill Nelson, and several military witnesses (Generals Smith, Alexander, and Miller) praised General Geoffrey Miller for having “straightened out,” in Senator Pat Roberts’s words, Guantánamo.¹ As Saxby Chambliss put it:

    I think I was [at Guantánamo] the day that General Miller first arrived, as a matter of fact. I observed random interrogations down there. General Miller did correct a problem that existed. There were charges of abuse that were much slighter than these charges of abuse [at Abu Ghraib...

    (pp. 130-158)

    Waterboarding entered the american lexicon on May 13, 2004, amid the scandal of Abu Ghraib, when theNew York Timesdescribed the practice—“a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown”—and its authorization by the Department of Justice.¹ Even as the Abu Ghraib scandal raged and despite the notoriety that would eventually attach itself to waterboarding, the practice did not register with members of Congress in 2004. There are no references to the practice in the published transcripts of Congress’s hearings in 2004. And, while waterboarding appeared in the published transcripts...

  12. CHAPTER 7 From “Enhanced Interrogation” to Drones: U.S. COUNTERTERRORISM AND THE LEGACY OF TORTURE
    (pp. 159-178)

    Between 2003 and 2008, a discourse that acknowledged torture emerged in U.S. politics. In this discourse, the “torture word”—previously kept at arm’s length—was applied to U.S. detention and interrogation practices, including the use of stress positions, forced nudity, “gender coercion,” sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Those who articulated this discourse construed these practices and the facilities at which the practices were used (Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the “black sites”) as symbols of the excesses of the Bush administration. They also produced a frame for torture in which respect for the rule of law and the protection of human rights strengthened...

  13. APPENDIX: Constructionism and the Reality of Torture
    (pp. 179-188)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 189-240)
    (pp. 241-266)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 267-276)