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On Torture

, 238 pages
October 2008



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On Torture

Globally, no single issue resonates today as much as torture or allegations thereof. Under the current rubric of the war on terror, the governments of the United States and other democratic nations that have long decried human rights abuses have sought to alter the tone, tenor, and definition of the term. From where does the basis for this new paradigm derive? How might it affect a nation’s moral and official authority in the eyes of its citizenry and the world? When, if ever, can torture be an accepted practice? What are the psychological and physical aftereffects of such physical and mental violence on the victim, the practitioner, and the populations in whose name torture is committed?

The essays gathered in On Torture, a special issue of South Central Review, explore these questions in a philosophical and empirical light. They discuss the definitions of torture, examine the logical underpinnings of the practice as a means of control and of extracting information, assay the manner in which such actions are taken and how they are officially depicted, and offer an overview of government-sanctioned torture in the modern era.

In surveying the realities of torture, the contributors unearth commonalities in the creation of torturers during the Algerian War, the systematic abuses that enabled Germany’s Nazi regime to function, the dehumanizing manner with which the Israeli Defense Forces allegedly treat Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and the American public’s acquiescence to the new norm after the September 11 terror attacks. They reveal the parallels between the institutionalization of torture within nations and the glorification of war and violence in artistic endeavors throughout the ages and explain how internalizing and accepting torture usurps individual freedom and subverts humanity.

Thomas C. Hilde is a research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and the coeditor of The Agrarian Roots of Pragmatism.

"The American 'torture debate' is mostly a sound-bite battle among talking heads with furrowed brows earnestly invoking ticking time bombs, international treaties, and the American image abroad. The authors in this splendid collection discuss torture in human terms—in the experience of torturing and being tortured, far removed from antiseptic talk about costs and benefits, ticking bombs and moral absolutes, policies and permissions. It is essential reading."

"Torture's rehabilitation by the Bush administration is a regression of democracy, destroyed in the name of protecting it. The very great merit of this book by Thomas C. Hilde and contributors is in reminding us of the historical record of these practices, the debates they have aroused in Europe and the Modern West, and the calamity they have wrought. Today, a slippery slope is leading civilization backwards to barbarism in the name of the struggle against barbarism."

"If you're thinking, 'Who wants to read a collection of essays about torture?' you may want to reconsider... This fascinating volume examines the nature of torture, its uses, and our perceptions of it."

"This book appears at an extraordinary moment."

"This edited collection is an excellent and illuminating addition to the literature on the torture policy of the Bush administration during its war on terror.. Unflinching and unforgiving."

"Unflinching and unforgiving, Hilde's volume impresses the reader not just with the depravity of the world of torture that the United States chose to enter but with the sense that the road back to human decency will be a difficult one—one framed, as Dorfman suggests, by the refusal to let fear justify that which erases our humanity."

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