Torture, Terror, and Sovereignty
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Law, Meaning, and Violence
Introduction: The Puzzle of Torture
If we are quite willing to kill, why not torture? In the midst of a “war on terror,” we find ourselves engaged with this question again. Much seems to be at stake in the debate: legally, historically, and morally. The elimination of torture from penal and investigatory practices was a central element in the development of modern law. The American Constitution prohibited “cruel and unusual punishment”...
PART I. GENEALOGICAL INQUIRIES
Today, terror and torture appear as the moral and legal pathologies characteristic of opposing sides in what is effectively, if not formally, a war. Terror is what terrorists do; torture is what governments do. Terror evokes torture in response, and torture evokes terror. Viewed from a distance, there is a significant overlap between these two forms of violent behavior...
1. Torture and Sovereignty
debates over torture are often mired in questions of definition. With torture, as with pornography, agreement on paradigmatic instances does not lead to agreement on a definition. Of course, torture involves violence or the threat of violence, but so do other political practices, including punishment and combat. Not surprisingly, these are just the places at which torture is likely to occur as well...
2. Torture and International Law
in the first chapter, I argued that political modernity was characterized by a shift from torture to war, from victims to conscripts. The disappearance of torture as a domestic practice of power, however, does not in itself suggest a similar disappearance of torture from the practice of international violence. Torture was traditionally applied against enemies—domestic and foreign—of the sovereign...
3. The Current Debate: Torture in the War on Terror
Those who are willing to consider the use of torture today portray it as an investigative technique to be used in the war on terror. More narrowly still, torture’s justification lies in the prevention of injury.1 It is not to be a technique to investigate past crimes, nor is it to be a form of punishment. Rather, they claim that torture can be used to prevent terrorist acts that are about to occur: the “ticking time bomb.”...
PART II. VIOLENCE AND THE ARCHITECTURE
At the core of the ticking time bomb hypothetical is an exchange of lives: threat is met by counterthreat. What is puzzling about the hypothetical is why we would have any trouble with it at all, given that we would not hesitate to attack a person carrying the time bomb. We would likely do so even if we thought he was a morally innocent third party—for example, someone who does not know what he is doing...
4. A Primer on Political Violence
Since 9/11, a number of countries, including the United States, have made it clear that they are willing to shoot down civilian aircraft that threaten destruction to populations or important installations. Again, this looks like a utilitarian calculus—measuring lives lost against lives saved—but that is only partially correct. When the German Constitutional Court declined to accept a similar policy...
5. Crossing the Border between Law and Sovereignty
juxtaposing the ticking time bomb and the hand grenade hypotheticals poses the question of the relationship between torture and self-sacrifice. If I am willing to suffer terrible bodily injury and even die for the political community, should I be equally willing to do the same to others in order to protect the community? Ordinarily, suffering and acting do not stand in a relationship of reciprocal implication...
Conclusion: Torture, Terror, and Sacrifice
Because symbolic systems—including that of the political—are only partially self-conscious, there is no reason to expect a direct relationship between the forms of self-presentation and the forms of experience. We know this directly in our personal experience of ourselves and others. What we say about ourselves tells us—and others—something, but we would often be mistaken...