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Research Handbook on International Law and Terrorism

Research Handbook on International Law and Terrorism

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Ben Saul

This Handbook brings together leading scholars and practitioners to examine the prolific body of international laws governing terrorism. It exhaustively covers the global response to terrorism in transnational criminal law, the international law on the use of force, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, the law of State responsibility, the United Nations Security Council, General Assembly, UN specialised bodies, and regional organisations. It also addresses special legal issues in dealing with terrorism such as gender, religion, victims of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and customary law.

Chapter 22: Torture and counter-terrorism

Ben Saul and Mary Flanagan

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, public international law, terrorism and security law, politics and public policy, human rights, terrorism and security


Despite the absolute international legal prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, torture became more prevalent as a counter-terrorism instrument after the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001. State torture of terrorists is nothing new, as evidenced in decolonization struggles such as the Algerian people’s war of independence from France, British practices in Northern Ireland and its colonial territories, Israeli interrogation of Palestinians, or in many states’ repression of their political opponents. Yet, the post-9/11 practice of torture exhibited its own distinctive characteristics. This chapter examines two key trends. First, the US argued that aggressive or ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques did not amount to torture or ill-treatment, despite clear international legal authority to the contrary. The infamous ‘torture memos’, some of which were operationalized, licensed torture by military or CIA interrogators until they were eventually rescinded in 2009. Political figures and government lawyers also played indispensable roles in authorizing or permitting torture.

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