Taking exception

When torture becomes thinkable
Torture seems to have become a tool of state for the U.S. Why? If torture is not unplanned, what purpose does it serve?

It is usually assumed that prisoners are tortured to make them relinquish information. However, that is hardly an adequate explanation; military intelligence officers estimated to the Red Cross that 70 to 90 percent of the prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were held by mistake. Torture is not simply for gathering information. There is a larger sense in which torture fits into the grand narrative of the “war on terror.”

The idea that “everything changed on 9/11” generates a sense that we are living in a state of exception, a time when exceptional measures such as torture become thinkable. Far from temporary, however, this time seems to stretch indefinitely into the future; the Department of Homeland Security is the institutionalization of the state of emergency.


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