The paper I am presenting for this podcast symposium is part of an ongoing research interest of mine in how torture becomes institutionalized in military forces that are (in theory at least) committed to the prohibition against torture. I am particularly interested in how the processes of rationalization and normalization contribute to the use of torture, and how language, training, and torture methods effect the moral attitudes of those involved in the authorization and use of torture.
I was inspired to write this paper after noticing that the term “torture lite” was turning up quite frequently in the public debate about torture, used both by those who argue against torture and by those arguing that torture might sometimes be justified. I was interested in how the use of this phrase (and similar phrases such as “enhanced interrogation”) shaped the debate about torture, and in whether this term does pick out a set of torture techniques that are generally or always less severe than more violent torture methods. In particular, I began to wonder how the techniques described as torture lite (for example, extended sleep deprivation, forced standing, noise bombardment, isolation, and manipulation of heat and cold) shaped torturers’ (and others’) moral perception of what is being done to the victims and who is responsible for it. It struck me that so-called torture lite techniques share certain features that tend to mask the effects of these methods on the victims and minimize the torturer’s role in causing the victims’ suffering, and that this might play an important role in making such forms of torture seem more palatable to liberal democracies than would otherwise be the case.
I hope you find the paper interesting to read/listen to. I look forward to reading your comments, and many thanks to Simon May for organizing this symposium.
I haven’t included the footnotes in the podcast of the paper, and I have left some material out in order to make it a manageable length, but you can read the full version of the paper here
David Sussman’s excellent comments are available here
You can listen to the podcast below.