Political Language, Policy Formulation and the Practice of Torture in the War on Terrorism: Implications for Human Rights

Richard Dean Wells Jackson

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The purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which the political language of senior public officials regarding the terrorist threat facing America is implicated in the formulation of the torture policy, and the actual torture and abuse of prisoners. The central argument is simple: the discourse of the war on terrorism set the logic and possibilities of policy formulation in the first instance, and helped to create the wider legitimacy and social consensus that is required to enact policy. Importantly, there is a growing consensus that the current discourse and practice of torture and abuse by American service personnel is proving damaging to the wider international human rights framework and to human rights standards in other countries. The paper is divided into three main sections. In the first section, I summarize what is known about the extent of torture and prisoner abuse, as well as the nature of official complicity in those abuses. The second section provides an overview of several individual, social-psychological, and historical factors that are vital to understanding the occurrence of torture and prisoner abuse in this and other contexts. The third and most important section explores the role of public political discourse as a key explanatory factor in the deliberate construction of the torture policy, as well as its role in creating military and public acceptance for such treatment. In the conclusion, I discuss the implications of torture on the wider human rights context, as well as some of the broader ontological and normative implications of the paper‟s central findings.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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