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


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 Six: Abu Ghraib and the (Unexceptional) Rhetoric of the Exceptional


← 194 | 195 → Chapter SixAbu Ghraib and the (Unexceptional) Rhetoric of the Exceptional

We need to get to the bottom of what happened—and why—so we make sure it never happens again.

- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee.161

When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April 2004, it sparked an intense public debate over US torture in the “war on terror” that has produced a wealth of information on the topic.162 Critical coverage in scholarly articles, news reporting, books, and documentary films followed which predominantly examined the simple question of who was responsible for what was shown in the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison. While in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, media pundits and prominent scholars gave currency to the idea that the use of torture could not be precluded in the “war on terror” and in fact would provide a necessary and effective weapon in the fight against international terrorism,163 the Abu Ghraib prison scandal decelerated the promotion of this idea, challenging the supposed legitimacy and morality of torture. Overall, the photographs from Abu Ghraib triggered a new and lively debate on torture, which has been led with much clamor and which, in fact, is still ongoing.

The tremendous body of literature on the use of torture since 2004 demands closer analysis. To explore the complex issues that surround the pictures from Abu Ghraib, this chapter looks at US transgressions in...

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