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Language, policy and the construction of a torture culture in the war on terrorism


Torture has been widely practiced by US forces as an officially-sanctioned information gathering strategy in the war on terrorism. At the same time, public attitudes have exhibited a growing tolerance towards the torture of terrorist suspects. This article examines the role of elite political discourse in constructing and sustaining the conditions necessary for the acceptance and normalisation of torture. It argues that a focus on elite discourse is crucial for understanding how torture comes to be practised because discourses set the logic and parameters of policy formulation and create the wider social legitimacy that is required to enact policy, thereby facilitating the construction of a broader torture-sustaining reality. The study’s findings highlight the role of ideational factors in policy analysis and have important normative implications.

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* An earlier version of this article was presented at the British International Studies Association (BISA) Conference, 19–21 December, 2005, University of St. Andrews, UK, under the title, ‘The Social and Political Construction of Torture in the War on Terrorism’. The author would like to thank Inderjeet Parmar and three anonymous reviewers for extremely helpful suggestions which greatly improved the article. All remaining errors are the sole responsibility of the author.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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