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Understanding Torture

Law, Violence, and Political Identity

John T. Parry

Publication Year: 2010

John Parry's Understanding Torture is an important contribution to our understanding of how torture fits within the practices and beliefs of the modern state. His juxtaposition of the often indeterminate nature of the law of torture with the very specific state practices of torture is both startling and revealing. ---Paul W. Kahn is Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities at Yale Law School and author of Sacred Violence "Parry is effective in building, deploying, and supporting his argument . . . that the law does not provide effective protections against torture, but also that the law is in itself constitutive of a political order in which torture is employed to create---and to destroy or re-create---political identities.” ---Margaret Satterthwaite, Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Associate Professor of Clinical Law, NYU School of Law "A beautifully crafted, convincingly argued book that does not shy away from addressing the legal and ethical complexities of torture in the modern world. In a field that all too often produces simple or superficial responses to what has become an increasingly challenging issue, Understanding Torture stands out as a sophisticated and intellectually responsible work." ---Ruth Miller, Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Boston Prohibiting torture will not end it. In Understanding Torture, John T. Parry explains that torture is already a normal part of the state coercive apparatus. Torture is about dominating the victim for a variety of purposes, including public order; control of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; and--- critically---domination for the sake of domination. Seen in this way, Abu Ghraib sits on a continuum with contemporary police violence in U.S. cities; violent repression of racial minorities throughout U.S. history; and the exercise of power in a variety of political, social, and interpersonal contacts. Creating a separate category for an intentionally narrow set of practices labeled and banned as torture, Parry argues, serves to normalize and legitimate the remaining practices that are "not torture." Consequently, we must question the hope that law can play an important role in regulating state violence. No one who reads this book can fail to understand the centrality of torture in modern law, politics, and governance. John T. Parry is Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

The impetus for this book was the use of coercive interrogation and detention tactics by U.S. personnel in the months and years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and I completed the manuscript in the last days of George W. Bush's presidency. I was able to take account of some more recent events or disclosures during the editing process. But Understanding Torture is not...

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Introduction: Law, Language, and Difference

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pp. 1-14

In 1987, a short review in Contemporary Sociology offered mild criticism of a book about the complicity of health professionals in torture: “The evidence and arguments presented are compelling, although one needs little persuasion to condemn such practices; thus the inclusion of photographs of torture rack[s] and exhumed bones of victims seem unnecessarily lurid.” Torture is so obviously wrong that there was no need

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Chapter One. Torture and International Law

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pp. 15-43

“Torture” is forbidden by international humanitarian law (the law governing armed conflicts), international human rights law, and the laws of most countries. In the language of customary international law, the ban on torture is jus cogens, a peremptory norm from which no derogation is permitted and that overrides contrary treaty obligations.1

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Chpater Two. The European Law of Torture

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pp. 44-54

II consider the European law of torture in this chapter in order to follow the analysis of international law in chapter 1 with a discussion of a multilateral body of human rights law that is arguably more influential and certainly more operational than the ICCPR or the Convention against Torture. In the course of describing doctrines that have developed in European case law, I hope also to continue showing the ways in which—despite its rhetoric of an absolute ban—law continues to accommodate...

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Chapter Three. Torture and State Violence in U.S. Law

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pp. 55-77

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966, and the United States signed it in 1977. When the Carter administration sent the ICCPR to the Senate in early 1978 for its advice and consent, it recommended a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs) "designed to harmonize the treaties...

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Chapter Four. Torture, Rights, and the Modern State

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pp. 78-96

As I stated in the introduction, this chapter breaks with the legal analysis in the previous chapters and turns to the relationship between torture, rights,and liberal governance. The starting point for my analysis is the idea that legal or human rights do not exist in a vacuum, are not inherent in nature or required by rational deduction, and do not function as trumps. In other...

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Chapter Five. Torture in Modern Democracies

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pp. 97-134

This chapter surveys episodes in the modern use of torture by countries in Europe, as well as by Canada and Israel. By using the word modern, I am suggesting that this chapter will discuss relatively recent uses of torture (for the most part, since World War II), as well as that the countries I am discussing define themselves as progressive, developed, and bureaucratic. These states define their relationships with their...

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Chapter Six. U.S. Torture at Home and Abroad

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pp. 135-164

This chapter surveys instances in which of‹cials in the United States have engaged in torture or similar conduct. In each instance, allegations of misconduct have been publicized widely and substantiated to some degree. Yet each time, the allegations have also been denied, minimized, or explained away. Torture and other mistreatment in the Philippines and Vietnam have been characterized as anomalous.... and political devices—human beings...

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Chapter Seven. Torture in the War on Terror

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pp. 165-203

This chapter considers the use by U.S. forces of torture and other coercion in the war on terror. I do not ask the question asked in so many editorials, talk shows, and articles in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal: how “could [it] have been possible to commit such atrocious horrors against other human beings”? As in earlier chapters, I seek instead, in Agamben’s words, “to investigate carefully how—that is, thanks to what juridical procedures and political devices—human beings...

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Conclusion: Living with Torture

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pp. 204-216

The Convention against Torture characterizes torture as an exceptional act. By emphasizing, first, the amount of pain (“severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental”) and, second, the motivation behind the infliction of pain (“obtaining . . . information or a confession,” punishment, “intimidating or coercing,” or discrimination), it implies that torture is different from other, less-regulated conduct, such as “other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”1

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pp. 217-220

In January 2009, President Obama issued a series of executive orders on detention and interrogation policy. Among other things, the orders revoked Bush’s 2007 post–Military Commissions Act order on CIA interrogation and declared that all interrogations of people in U.S. custody would comply with the Army ‹eld manual and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. In addition to reaf‹rming Obama’s campaign promise to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, the new administration...


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pp. 221-274

Works Cited

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pp. 275-302


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pp. 303-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780472021789
E-ISBN-10: 0472021788
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472050772
Print-ISBN-10: 047205077X

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2010