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Debating torture after Abu Ghraib

King's Building, Strand Campus , London

22 Jan LisaProfile

Speaker: Lisa Stampnitzky (University of Sheffield)

In this talk, which draws from a larger project on how torture became “speakable” in the U.S. war on terror, Dr Stampnitzky will analyze the transformation of debate following the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal. Although the question of whether torture might be permissible entered the public sphere shortly after the 9/11 attacks, early discussions largely framed this as a hypothetical question. Rather than grappling with the possibility that the U.S. was already torturing prisoners, commentators posed this as a moral and legal concern that the country needed to face with regard to potential future action. State representatives, meanwhile, focused on insisting that the U.S. did not, and would not, engage in the torture of terrorist suspects. Following the exposure of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, however, it was no longer possible to carry on in ignorance. Subsequently, we begin to see less focus on the abstract permissibility of torture, and more attention to whether the specific techniques and events now known to have occurred should be considered permissible. State discourse, meanwhile, shifted strategy from one organized around denial, to one of selective acknowledgement. We see increased releases of information, which Dr Stampnitzky argues can be understood as attempts to shape public perceptions of the program of “enhanced interrogation,” and to differentiate it from the events at Abu Ghraib. While the existence of the “program” itself was acknowledged and made visible, however, specific details that would help to answer the (now) key questions of whether it should be classed as “torture” or “abuse”, rather than “interrogation” are subsumed. 

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