Permission to Torture

Reflections on Post 9/11 Erosion of Human Rights through a Cold War Counterinsurgency Lens

In: Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law
Michael HumphreyProfessor of Sociology, University of Sydney,

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9/11 introduced a new phase in us foreign policy launching the war on terror. Integral to this new us global counterinsurgency was the use of torture as technique deployed to save us lives threatened by international terrorism. President George Bush’s declaration in 2001, ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’ expresses the logic of counterinsurgency strategy to divide the world into friends and enemies. The division of the world into friends and enemies is based on asymmetrical counterconcepts based on the negation of the ‘Other’. This article argues that the legitimation of torture in the Cold War and Post 9/11 eras arises from imperial/global politics based on a counterinsurgency, terror and torture nexus. Through an analysis of the role of torture in Cold War us counterinsurgency policy in Latin America it argues that torture was a technique of governance to produce victims and forge new political subjectivities. In the Latin American dictatorships abduction, detention and secrecy created legal voids that allowed torture. Post 9/11 global counterinsurgency practices are differentiated between geographical zones identified as the zone of integration and zone of intervention. It is in the zone of intervention that torture has been deployed as a technique in which the distinction between civilian and terrorist has become blurred. It argues that Obama’s failure to close Guantánamo Bay prison as promised reveals that global counterinsurgency continues and that the issue of the us military or intelligence resort to torture remains live despite legal and political attempts to stop it.

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