A liberal use of "torture": Pain, personhood, and precedent in the U.S. federal definition of torture

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Ongoing debates about the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used in the Global War on Terrorism, and the failure to prosecute officials who authorized these acts, have revealed deep controversy and complexity within popular and legal understandings of the term "torture." One source of this controversy lies in the U.S. federal definition of torture itself. A close reading of 18 U.S.C. 2340 reveals a uniquely liberal-modernist conception of subjectivity and experience that off ers inadequate legal protection against the "no-touch" techniques that have become paradigmatic of contemporary torture. Specifically, the moral and epistemological ambiguities within its legal categories of "pain" and "personhood" result in a law that eff ectively permits rather than prohibits the preferred torture techniques of liberal-democratic states. Following the critical-analytic work of this argument, the article off ers an appeal for the inclusion of a more robustly rhetorical conception of experience in the formulation of a new legal definition of torture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-426
Number of pages26
JournalRhetoric and Public Affairs
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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