New Book “Talking about Torture” Tracks Shift in Thought—and Discourse—About Torture

Torture has been an important talking point during and after the war on terror. How the practice is talked about is the focus of Jared Del Rosso's new book, Talking About Torture: How Political Discourse Shapes the Debate.

Looking at post-9/11 political discourse surrounding Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program, Del Rosso shows how the conversation shifted from denial of torture to defense of its role in interrogations during the Bush Administration. He also shows how anti-torture arguments emerged during the final years of the Bush administration and shaped the Obama administration's counter-terror policies. 

Del Rosso pinpoints the role of leaked documents—the Abu Ghraib photographs, the interrogation log of Mohammed al-Qahtani, and FBI emails about Guantanamo—in these shifts. These documents revealed the excesses of American torture and forced Democrats and Republicans alike to recognize that there were significant problems with American detention and interrogation operations.

Del Rosso also shows how the CIA's destruction of its videotaped interrogations influenced the debate.

“Today, we associate torture with Nazis, communists, the imperial Japanese, and even the interrogators of the Spanish Inquisition. If the seven-letter word 'torture’ attaches itself to a practice like waterboarding, those sorts of associations come rushing in,” explains Del Rosso. “Without these taped interrogations, supporters of waterboarding have been able to convince a significant portion of the American public that waterboarding is legal, effective, safe, and controlled—not, in other words, torture—and fend off these associations.”

Talking About Torture has relevance to ongoing debates about U.S. interrogation policies, the Obama administration's refusal to release videos of force-feeding at Guantanamo and photographs of detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Congress's role in investigating torture. The book includes an introductory chapter on the December 2014 revelations of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA interrogation, relating this investigation to the overall arguments of the book. It also includes commentary on how and why torture gave way, during Obama's presidency, to the use of drones. 

Source Contact Information

University of Denver
Author / Assistant Professor of Sociology & Criminology