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Torture and Impunity

The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation

Alfred W. McCoy

Publication Year: 2012

Many Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.
    During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject’s resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America’s moral authority as a world leader.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Critical Human Rights


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-iv


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix


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pp. xi-xv


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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. 1-15

Torture occurs in small, secret places and yet has profound global implications. Every act of torture plays out on a narrow stage—not a battlefi eld with opposing armies arrayed before countless witnesses but a sequestered chamber, closed to the eyes of the world, where one...

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1. The CIA’s Pursuit of Psychological Torture

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pp. 16-52

On April 28, 2004, American viewers were stunned when the CBS Television network broadcast those troubling photographs from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, showing hooded Iraqis stripped naked and American soldiers standing by, smiling. As the scandal grabbed...

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2. Science in Dachau’s Shadow

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pp. 53-84

In August 2006, U.S. Army surgeon general Kevin Kiley, dressed in full combat uniform, appeared before the national convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) to defend the participation of psychologists in interrogation at Guantanamo. “Psychology,”...

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3. Torture in the Crucible of Counterinsurgency

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pp. 85-113

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, theW hite House made torture its secret weapon in the War on Terror. Although Washington mobilized its regular military forces for conventional attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, the main challenge in this new kind of...

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4. Theater State of Terror

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pp. 114-150

The Philippines off ers eloquent testimony about the transactional nature of psychological torture. From 1972 to 1986, torture served as a key instrument in President Ferdinand Marcos’s martial- law rule, creating a cohort of junior offi cers whose careers were shaped by years..

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5. The Seduction of Psychological Torture

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pp. 151-187

Just four weeks after the CBS television network broadcast those sixteen photos showing the torture of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004,1 Susan Sontag published a subtle yet sensational cover story in the New York Times Magazine. She simply...

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6. The Outcast of Camp Echo

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pp. 188-215

On or about January 11, 2002, a small, slende,r twentysix- year- old Australian named David Hicks, recently captured fi ghting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, was one of the first detainees flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for incarceration at...

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7. Psychological Torture and Public Forgetting

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pp. 216-268

After eight years of the War on Terror under the leadership of George W. Bush, the United States was trapped in the painful politics of impunity. Despite dozens of offi cial inquiries in the years since the Abu Ghraib photos fi rst exposed the abuse in April 2004, the...


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pp. 269-334


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pp. 335-370


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pp. 371-402

Further Reading, Back Cover'

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p. 403

E-ISBN-13: 9780299288532
E-ISBN-10: 0299288536
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299288549
Print-ISBN-10: 0299288544

Page Count: 298
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Critical Human Rights
Series Editor Byline: Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 814694156
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Torture and Impunity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Torture -- United States -- History.
  • Torture -- Government policy -- United States.
  • Military interrogation -- United States -- History.
  • Impunity -- United States.
  • United States. Central Intelligence Agency.
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