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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 Seven: The Shadow of Torture: Projections


← 256 | 257 → Chapter SevenThe Shadow of Torture: Projections

Without our marvelous capacity to forget the past, the present would indeed be unbearable.

- Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy 359.

This book has traced public debates on torture during the Philippine-American War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. I have investigated how earlier torture debates and the public memory of these debates have shaped our understanding of (US) torture today. It has been the premise of this study that in order to understand the current debate on torture we have to read it in the context of earlier public debates on the topic. As I claimed, the public debates on torture in US military interventions have a history, just as the torture techniques at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Bagram, Afghanistan, and various black sites around the world have a history. Yet as I showed, public memory about past instances of torture is oftentimes distorted and misleading, resulting in false assumptions about the efficacy of torture, the exceptional circumstances that demand the use of torture as well as what constitutes torture and where certain techniques originated.

One of the main paradoxes this book detected in studying public debates on torture during the 20th and 21st century is that despite the existence of various continuities and uncanny similarities, historical precedence is oftentimes neglected and denied while false claims prevail. This is particularly noteworthy as the debates follow a similar ‘script’: charges of torture are initially...

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