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Historicizing waterboarding as a severe torture norm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The debate on waterboarding and the wider debate on torture remains fiercely contested. President Trump and large sections of the US public continue to support the use of waterboarding and other so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' as part of the 'War on Terror', thus putting the anti-torture norm under pressure. This article demonstrates that the re-imagining of waterboarding as 'torture-lite' is contradicted by the long history of waterboarding itself. Examining pre-modern uses and descriptions of torture and waterboarding, this article highlights that the post-2001 identification of waterboarding as a relatively benign interrogation technique radically inverts a norm that has predominated for over 600 years. This historical norm unequivocally identifies waterboarding not only as torture but as severe torture. The article highlights the value of historically contextualizing attitudes to torture, reviews how and why waterboarding was downgraded by the Bush Administration, reveals the earliest explicit description of waterboarding from 1384, and argues that the twenty-first-century re-imagining of waterboarding as torture-lite is indicative of the fragility of the anti-torture norm.
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Details

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Relations
VolumeOnline First
Early online date20 Sep 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Sep 2018

    Research areas

  • Torture, Waterboarding, Torture-lite, CIA, Anti-torture norm, Comparative ethics, Legal history

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