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Confronting TortureEssays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today$
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Scott A. Anderson and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226529387

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226529554.001.0001

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US Torture of Prisoners of War in Historical Perspective: The Role of Delegitimization

US Torture of Prisoners of War in Historical Perspective: The Role of Delegitimization

(p.120) Chapter 6 US Torture of Prisoners of War in Historical Perspective: The Role of Delegitimization
Confronting Torture

Christopher J. Einolf

University of Chicago Press

This chapter looks at US willingness to use torture as a means of combat, and the conditions under which its leaders and soldiers have thought torture legitimate. Prior to the US’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American soldiers used torture in only two previous international conflicts: the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902 and the Vietnam War. There are several similarities between these historical conflicts and recent ones that may explain why torture has been more readily used in them. These include racism toward the enemy, allowing for its dehumanization; the fact that these were all counterinsurgency wars, which makes torture more useful; and the enemy’s disrespect for the laws of war, leading to the possibility of delegitimizing their status as soldiers. The current War on Terror resembles these earlier conflicts in many respects, but is exceptional in that US officials declared the enemy to be illegitimate and ordered the use of torture. To prevent future torture, this chapter recommends taking the moral reasoning of soldiers seriously, and urges us to come up with arguments against torture that soldiers will recognize as valid. It also suggests changing international law to help soldiers see such law as relevant and fair.

Keywords:   delegitimization, history of torture, international law, Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, racism, soldiers, torture, US history, Vietnam War, War on Terror

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