Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
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some of which were operationalized, licensed torture by military or CIA interrogators until they were eventually rescinded in 2009.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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