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.