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Reading the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture

Wednesday 1 February 2017, 12.00PM

Speaker(s): Lisa Stampnitzky (University of Sheffield)

Reading the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture

By the end of the 20th century, opposition to torture had come to be understood as a settled norm.  Yet shortly after the 9/11 attacks, debate erupted in the U.S. over its legal and ethical status.  And this was not simply a temporary reaction: recent surveys indicate increased support for torture among the American public, and President-Elect Donald Trump has expressed enthusiastic support for its use.  This talk draws from a larger book project, tentatively titled How Torture Became Speakable, which seeks to explain how torture was transformed from an unspeakable evil to an open question for debate.  This talk will present an analysis of the 2012 Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, of which a 500-page summary was released to the public in December 2014.  One of the most peculiar aspects of the Report is that it spends very little time on the moral permissibility of torture.   Rather, the great majority of the (publicly available portions of) the Report focus on two questions:  first, were the “harsh interrogation methods” effective, and second, did the CIA mislead members of Congress about these methods and their effectiveness.   I suggest that we can understand this in the context of broader political struggles over the definition of torture itself.  Advocates of these interrogation methods sought to reframe “torture” as a barbaric, ineffective practice, in opposition to “harsh interrogation,” which was framed as scientific, measured, and effective.   Consequently, the lack of explicit debate over the permissibility of “torture” in the Senate Committee Report can be understood as a sublimated debate, in which the question of the effectiveness of the interrogations serves as a proxy for whether or not they should be classed as “torture.”

Location: Derwent College room D/N/104

Admission: All welcome