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The Shadow of Torture: Debating US Transgressions in Military Interventions, 1899–2008

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Katrin Dauenhauer

The photographs from Abu Ghraib triggered a debate on torture in the United States that has been led with a significant amount of visibility. What has been noticeably absent, however, is a thorough historical contextualization of US torture following September 11, 2001. The Shadow of Torture analyzes the debates on torture during the Vietnam War and the Philippine-American War and shows that the current controversy did not arise out of a political vacuum but reflects and draws upon pre-existing discursive contexts and practices.
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Chapter One: Introduction: Debating US Torture in Military Interventions, 1899–2008

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← 8 | 9 → Chapter OneIntroduction: Debating US Torture in Military Interventions, 1899–2008

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

- Art. 5, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

Torture is a man-made disaster. It is the gravest violation of an individual’s fundamental right to personal integrity and freedom. The most widely accepted and quoted definition of torture internationally can be found in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Article 1 of the CAT defines ‘torture’ as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for a specific purpose and “by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity” (United Nations).1 Torture is often used to penalize; to extort information or force a confession; to take revenge or to spread terror and fear within a population. In torture, the body’s vulnerability to being subjected and controlled is abused with maximum effect. The extreme pain, a sense of complete subordination, powerlessness and humiliation and feelings of being completely at someone else’s mercy have consequences for the victim that reach far beyond the immediate physical injury. Many survivors of torture suffer from post-traumatic ← 9 | 10 → stress disorder (PTSD), with symptoms such as depression, memory lapses, flashbacks (or intrusive thoughts), nightmares, insomnia, and...

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