Darius Rejali traces the development and application of one torture technique after another in the last century, and he reaches startling conclusions. As the twentieth century progressed, he argues, democracies not only tortured, but set the international pace for torture.
Dictatorships may have tortured more, and more indiscriminately, but the United States, Britain, and France pioneered and exported techniques that have become the lingua franca of modern torture: methods that leave no marks.
Under the watchful eyes of reporters and human rights activists, low-level authorities in the world’s oldest democracies were the first to learn that to scar a victim was to advertise iniquity and invite scandal. Long before the CIA even existed, police and soldiers turned instead to “clean” techniques, such as torture by electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions.
As democracy and human rights spread after World War II, so too did these methods. Rejali takes up the challenging question of whether torture works and will also address what to expect of the new Obama administration and the prospects for the future of torture internationally.
Darius Rejali, professor and Chair of political science at Reed College, is a nationally recognised expert on government torture and interrogation. Iranian-born, Rejali has spent his scholarly career reflecting on violence, and, specifically, reflecting on the causes, consequences, and meaning of modern torture in our world. His work spans concerns in political science, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, and critical social theory. He is a 2003 Carnegie Scholar, recognized for his innovative approaches to the study of violence.
Torture and Democracy (2007) is Rejali’s most recent book. It is an unrelenting examination of the use of torture by democracies in the 20th century. It won the 2007 Human Rights Book of the Year Award from the American Political Science Association.
Rejali is also the author of Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran (1994) as well as many recent articles on violence including masculinity and torture, media representations of torture, the political thought of Osama bin Ladin, the history of electric torture, the practice of stoning in the Middle East, the treatment of refugees who have been tortured, and theories of ethnic rape.
Respondent: Sudeep Dasgupta (UvA – Media studies) and Lars van Troost (Amnesty International).
For both programs: introduction by Michiel Leezenberg (UvA) and Yolande Jansen (UvA)
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