Why Torture When Torture Does Not Work? Orientalism, Anti-Blackness and the Persistence of White Terror

A guest post from Melanie Richter-Montpetit, responding to the disclosure of the Senate Torture Report in December. Melanie is currently lecturer in international security at the University of Sussex, having recently gained her PhD from York University in Toronto. Her work on issues of subjectivity, belonging and political violence has also been published in Security Dialogue and the International Feminist Journal of Politics.

a land on which no slave can breathe.

– Frederick Douglass (1846)[i]

I had to leave; I needed to be in a place where I could breathe and not feel someone’s hand on my throat.

– James Baldwin (1977)[ii]

I can’t breathe.

– Eric Garner (2014)

 America Waterboards

No, bin Laden was not found because of CIA torture.[iii] In fact, the US Senate’s official investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation program concludes that torture yielded not a single documented case of “actionable intelligence.” If anything, the Senate Torture Report[iv] – based on the review of more than six million pages of CIA material, including operational cables, intelligence reports, internal memoranda and emails, briefing materials, interview transcripts, contracts, and other records – shows that the administration of torture has led to blowbacks due to false intelligence and disrupted relationships with prisoners who cooperated. What went “wrong”? How is it possible that despite the enormous efforts and resources invested in the CIA-led global torture regime, including the careful guidance and support by psychologists[v] and medical doctors, that the post-9/11 detention and interrogation program failed to produce a single case of actionable data? Well, contrary to the commonsense understanding of torture as a form of information-gathering, confessions made under the influence of torture produce notoriously unreliable data, and the overwhelming majority of interrogation experts and studies oppose the collection of intelligence via the use of torture. This is because most people are willing to say anything to stop the pain or to avoid getting killed and/or are simply unable to remember accurate information owing to exhaustion and trauma.[vi]

So if torture is known not work, how come, then, that in the wake of 9/11 the U.S. at the highest levels of government ran the risk of setting up a torture regime in violation of international and domestic law? Why alienate international support and exacerbate resentments against “America” with the public display of controversial incarceration practices, as in Guantánamo Bay, instead of simply relying on the existing system of secret renditions? Furthermore, in the words of a former head of interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, most of the tortured and indefinitely detained are “Mickey Mouse” prisoners,[vii] reportedly known not to be involved in or not to have any information on criminal or terrorist activity against the U.S. and its allies. Drawing on previously published work, I will explore this puzzle by addressing two key questions: What is the value of these carceral practices when they do not produce actionable intelligence? And, what are some of the affective and material economies involved in making these absurd and seemingly counterproductive carceral practices possible and desirable as technologies of security in the post-9/11 Counterterrorism efforts?

Against the exceptionalism[viii] of conceiving of these violences as “cruel and unusual,” “abuse” or “human rights violations”[ix] that indicate a return to “medieval” methods of punishment, the post-9/11 US torture regime speaks to the constitutive role of certain racial-sexual violences in the production of the US social formation. Contrary to understandings of 9/11 and the authorization of the torture regime as a watershed moment in U.S. history “destroying the soul of America,”[x] the carceral security or pacification practices documented in the Senate Torture Report and their underpinning racial-sexual grammars of legitimate violence and suffering have played a fundamental role in the making of the US state and nation since the early days of settlement.[xi] The CIA Detention and Interrogation program[xii] targeting Muslimified subjects and populations was not only shaped by the gendered racial-sexual grammars of Orientalism, but – as has been less explored in IR[xiii]is informed also by grammars of anti-Blackness, the capture and enslavement of Africans and the concomitant production of the figure of the Black body as the site of enslaveability and openness to gratuitous violence.[xiv]

The Myth of the Instrumental Use of Torture

The idea that torture works and that its use proved critical in the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden informs the plot also in Kathryn Bigelow’s popular as controversial film Zero Dark Thirty. In the movie’s opening scene, a CIA agent threatens a prisoner with more torture telling him that resistance to torture is futile, because “in the end everybody breaks, bro. It’s biology.” As Darius Rejali explores in his classic Torture and Democracy, while in the end torture might well break all of its victims, confessions made under the influence of physical and psychological torture produce notoriously unreliable data, and the overwhelming majority of interrogation experts and studies oppose the collection of intelligence via “enhanced interrogation,” including the CIA’s 1963 Kubark Counterintelligence Manual, the CIA’s unedited 1983 Human resources Exploitation Training Manual as well as the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Interrogation.[xv] More injury does not necessarily produce more pain but can lead to desensitization, render the tortured unconscious, and thus lead to delays or premature death and hence loss of control over the prisoner.[xvi] The administration of pain may also strengthen interrogees’ resistance and typically results in even cooperative prisoners being unable to recall even simple information of the past, in particular the recent past, or cause the “illusion of knowing” due to sleep loss, exhaustion or brain trauma.[xvii]

The most prominent declassified blowback due to torture in the War on Terror is the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Al-Libi was rendered to Egypt for interrogation and during torture falsely admitted to close ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda – a “confession” that laid the foundation to the Bush administration’s case for war against Iraq.[xviii] Much of the information released in the Senate Torture Report in regards to “false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding”[xix] were shared by FBI agent Ali Soufan in Spring 2009. In an op-ed in the New York Times Soufan debunked the Bush administration’s claim – which served as the rationale for the subsequent creation of a global torture regime – that only waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” practices made alleged high value prisoner Abu Zubaydah share valuable data. Not only did Zubaydah turn out to be only responsible for minor logistics, but according to Soufan then and as was confirmed by the Senate Torture Report, Zubaydah was cooperating and provided “important actionable intelligence”, however within 17 days of waterboarding, he became completely unresponsive.

Not only did the collection of intelligence via the use of torture prove ineffective, but most of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Bagram and Abu Ghraib have been indefinitely detained despite being deemed innocent of any criminal or terrorist activity against the USA and its allies. In early 2002, Michael Dunlavey, then head of interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, complained that he was receiving only what he called “Mickey Mouse” prisoners.[xx] Internal reports by CIA and US military as well as by the International Red Cross deplored that the majority of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were known to be uninvolved in any terrorist activity.

Erotics of Orientalism

The rationale provided for the post-9/11 adoption of “exceptional” measures such as “enhanced interrogation” is that the US faces a different kind of enemy that requires different kinds of security measures. Central to this narrative are Orientalist representations of Muslimified terrorists and insurgents “lurking in the shadows,” “dwelling in the dark corners of the earth.” Fundamental to the Orientalist articulations of civilizational sameness (“the Muslim world”) and difference (“liberal modernity” vs. “Islamic backwardness”) are ideas about racialized sexuality and gender, in particular the Orientalist idea that the Muslim world constitutes a site of particular sexual excess and, simultaneously, extreme sexual repression, in particular of women.[xxi] These Orientalist ideas about a distinctive Islamic sex-gender regime shaped many of the actual torture techniques documented in the Senate Torture Report.[xxii]

At the heart of the documented torture practices perpetrated by both CIA and US military were brute acts of force, such as beatings, whippings, sexualized assault as well as sensory deprivation, including hooding, exposure to extreme heat or cold, loud noise or strobe lights. At least five prisoners were tortured to death. Male prisoners were forced to masturbate themselves, simulate and/or perform oral or anal “sex” on fellow male prisoners. The guards also arranged naked male prisoners in a human pyramid and called them names such as “gay.”[xxiii] Prisoners were raped, including by violently inserting hummus into the anus. Moreover, naked prisoners were forced to wear “women’s” panties, often on their heads and, had women gaze at and mock their naked bodies. The Orientalist discourse about these misogynist, homophobic and transphobic performances of punishment being humiliating for Muslimified men only/in particular was reproduced by numerous critical interventions in newspapers and scholarly publications, including feminist analyses.[xxiv] Finally, the inscription of the prisoners’ racialized difference was articulated also through discourses of animalism, which cast racialized bodies as requiring more brutish forms of corporeal punishment – for their own good.[xxv] For instance, there are numerous reports and pictures of prisoners being forced to crawl and to bark, and some were “ridden like animals.”[xxvi]

The Water Cure (via)

The Water Cure (via)

There is now a large body of anti-colonial and transnational feminist work that demonstrates that these kinds of security practices are grounded in racialized scripts that constitute these bodies and spaces as violable and disposable, in particular through discourses of sexuality. As Andrea Smith argues in Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, the use of sexualized violence against colonized bodies of all genders, casting these populations and their land as rapeable has been and continues to be a critical technology of colonial governmentality. Torture, then, is productive of differential status not only between torturer and tortured in the prison cell, but between those populations that can be tortured and those that will not.[xxvii]

Torture Memos and anti-Blackness

The notorious 2005 Bybee memo dramatically narrows down the definition of torture “to only the most extreme forms of physical and mental harm”[xxviii] and “the most egregious contact.”[xxix] Bybee argues that “certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within proscription against torture.”[xxx] “Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”[xxxi]

The memo also limits the understanding of mental torture, arguing that “severe mental pain requires suffering not just at the moment of infliction but it also requires lasting psychological harm.” Hence, “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment would not constitute mental torture unless it caused effects that lasted ‘months or even years.’”[xxxii] Importantly, the memo stresses that for an action to “reach the threshold of torture in the criminal context”[xxxiii] requires specific intent, not simply general intent, meaning “the infliction of such [severe] pain must be the defendant’s precise objective.[xxxiv] Therefore, Bybee concludes, “even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith.”[xxxv]

While liberal critics of the so-called Torture Memos deplored the return to medieval forms of punishment,[xxxvi] the notion of legitimate violence and suffering underwriting these documents is informed by racial-sexual grammars that historically bring about “the absolute divestment of sovereignty at the site of the black body.”[xxxvii] Building on the legal scholarship of Colin Dayan and Afro-pessimist social theory, I will now discuss how these logics of anti-Blackness and concomitant in/security practices continue to circulate, in particular via the settler colony’s prison-industrial complex.[xxxviii]

Racial chattel slavery animated a measure of ranking of life and worth that – in the words of Saidiya Hartman – “has yet to be undone.”[xxxix] Slave laws produced the enslaved as civilly dead, a subject that became recognized as a person only when committing a crime.[xl] “Not simply things and not really human, slaves occupied a curiously nuanced category.”[xli] As a result, while in principle the killing of a slave was murder both in the British colonies of the New World and later in the newly founded settler colonial republic, slave codes legalized extreme suffering, including corporal mutilation, “to the point of killing them.”[xlii] Critical to the making of the enslaved=figure of the Black was not simply legal subjugation but a carceral regime based on punitive corporeal practices like whipping, beating, forced nudity and the use of dogs. The distinction between populations subject to penal techniques involving forced nudity and other technologies of sexualization and those protected from this humiliation was critical to the racialized ordering of the settler imperial slave state.[xliii]

As has been noted by a range of prison abolitionists and critical race theorists,[xliv] the official abolition of slavery did not do away with the legality of slavery and a range of punitive practices bringing about corporeal pain and suffering short of death. The 13th Amendment (1865) to the U.S. Constitution prohibits slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” transferring in Angela Davis’s words “black people from the prison of slavery to the slavery of prison.”[xlv]

In The Law is a White Dog Colin Dayan traces brilliantly how the production of the convict as civilly dead or the “slave of the state,”[xlvi] as a judge put it in 1871, continues to draw on the legal gymnastics of slave law, ascribing the felon full criminal responsibility yet less than full personhood. Since the mass mobilizations of the 1960s, the judicial system has legislated cruelty in prison as a matter of routine, producing the civil death of prisoners through a range of measures, including indefinite solitary confinement and denial of access to the courts. Deploying the logic of the slave laws, specifically the requirement for intent in order for even the most gruesome acts of violence to qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have “literally stripped [prisoners] of the right to experience suffering.”[xlvii] Rendered dead in law, and hence reduced to cadaver, devoid of mental “interiority” and “no longer even a victim,” the prisoner is simply blood and flesh.[xlviii] In The Story of Cruel and Unusual Dayan shows how these logics of racial chattel slavery inform also the Torture Memos, in particular their distinction between legal and illegal cruelty and their central focus on the question of intent rather than effect or reasonable expectation.

According to Afropessimist theory, enslavedness as ontology has survived the institution of chattel slavery and continues to produce Blackness as signifying enslaveability and openness to gratuitous violence.[xlix] These racial-sexual grammars of Blackness do not “simply” provide legitimization of suffering, but rather disavow injury by casting the capture, murder, rape and maiming of Black bodies a “structural impossibility”[l] and, concomitantly, continue to produce subjects cast as Human, and subjects seen as mere flesh. They make possible the legalization of extreme corporeal suffering and mutilation or wounding just short of “pain accompanying serious injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” From the antebellum slave plantation to the so-called black sites of the War on Terror, framing so vaguely the limits to legitimate suffering allows, in Dayan’s words, “masters to hide behind the law and ensured that their posture of care would remain a humane fiction.”[li]

To conclude, locating the findings of the Senate Torture Report within the racial-sexual grammars of chattel slavery and its afterlife opens up our analyses beyond explanatory and moral frameworks such as failed intelligence-gathering, “state of exception” or “human rights abuses” towards a more comprehensive understanding of seemingly illiberal security practices in the War on Terror. This genealogy indicates the fundamental role and value of force for the consolidation of the sovereign authority of the U.S. settler imperial formation ‘at home’ and abroad, and suggests the stubborn persistence of certain racial-sexual grammars of legitimate violence and suffering in this age of “post-racial triumph.”[lii] For “[w]ithout the capacity to inspire terror, whiteness no longer signifies the right to dominate.”[liii]


[i] Gossett, Che [CheG]. (2014, December 3) “a land on which no slave can breathe” Frederick Douglass #indictamerica #EricGarner #ICantBreathe #abolitionNOW [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/chegossett/status/540396664477851648

[ii] The Public Archive [public_archive]. (2014, December 3) “I had to leave; I needed to be in a place where I could breathe and not feel someone’s hand on my throat.” James Baldwin [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/public_archive/status/540398866516832256

[iii] See also http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/12/09/cia_osama_bin_laden_torture_senate_report_disputes_agency_claims.html

[iv] On December 9, 2014 the US Senate released the 535-page Executive Summary of its official report into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program. While the document is the most comprehensive to date, many of its findings were already a matter of public record. The Senate’s report does not discuss the torture regime set up by the US military.

[v] Two psychologists who consulted the CIA on torture techniques were paid around US$81. http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/12/10/two-u-s-psychologists-made-81-million-teaching-the-cia-how-to-torture/#__federated=1

[vi] Blakeley, R. (2009). State terrorism and neoliberalism: The north in the south. New York, NY: Routledge. Centre for Constitutional Rights. (2006). Report on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cub. New York, NY: Center for Constitutional Rights. Retrieved from http://ccrjustice.org/files/Report_ReportOnTorture.pdf. Hajjar, L. (2009). Does torture work? A sociolegal assessment of the practice in historical and global perspective. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 5, 311–345. Hajjar, L. (2013). Torture and Rights: A Sociology of Violence and Human Rights. New York, NY: Routledge. Hersh, S. M. (2004a). Chain of command: The road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. New York: Allen Lane, p. 14. Rejali, 2009; Rejali, D. (2009). Torture and Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Rose, D. (2008). Tortured Reasoning. Vanity Fair, (December). Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2008/12/torture200812. Scarry, E. (1985). The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[vii] McClintock, A. (2009). Paranoid empire: specters from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Small Axe, 13(1), p. 64.

[viii] See Puar, J. K. (2004). Abu Ghraib: arguing against exceptionalism. Feminist Studies, 522–534. Puar, J. K. (2007). Terrorist assemblages: Homonationalism in queer times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. see also Carby, H. (2004, October 11). A strange and bitter crop: the spectacle of torture. Open Democracy. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from http://www.opendemocracy.net/media-abu_ghraib/article_2149.jsp. Davis, A. Y. (2005). Abolition democracy: Beyond prisons, torture, and empire interviews with Angela Y. Davis. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. Kaufman-Osborn, T. (2005). Gender Trouble at Abu Ghraib? Politics & Gender, 1(04), 597–619. Khalid, 2011; Khalid, M. (2011). Gender, orientalism and representations of the “Other” in the War on Terror. Global Change, Peace & Security, 23(1), 15–29. Khalili, L. (2012). Time in the shadows: confinement in counterinsurgencies. Stanford University Press. McClintock, 2009; Mirzoeff, N. (2006). Invisible empire: Visual culture, embodied spectacle, and Abu Ghraib. Radical History Review, 95, 21. Nusair, I. (2008). Gendered, racialized and sexualized torture at Abu-Ghraib. In Feminism and War : Confronting US Imperialism (pp. 179–193). London: Zed Books. Retrieved from http://ohio5.openrepository.com/ohio5/handle/2374.DEN/5026. Philipose, L. (2007). The politics of pain and the uses of torture. Signs, 32(4), 1047–1071. Puar, 2004, 2007; Puar, J. K. (2005). Queer times, queer assemblages. Social Text, 23(3-4 84-85), 121–139. Pugliese, J. (2007). Abu Ghraib and its shadow archives. Law & Literature, 19(2), 247–276. Pugliese, J. (2008). Visual cultures of Orientalism and empire: the Abu Ghraib images. In N. Anderson & K. Schlunke (Eds.), Cultural theory in everyday practice (pp. 206–216). South Melbourne, Vic: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://minerva.mq.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/mq:6739. Razack, S. (2005). How is white supremacy embodied? Sexualized racial violence at Abu Ghraib. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 17(2), 341–363. Razack, S. (2008). Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. Rodríguez, D. (2006). (Non) scenes of captivity: The common sense of punishment and death. Radical History Review, 2006(96), 9–32. Rodríguez, D. (2007). Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals And the U.S. Prison Regime. In J. James (Ed.), Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy (pp. 35–57). Durham & London: Duke University Press. Rodríguez, D. (2008a). A Reign of Penal Terror: United States Global Statecraft and the Technology of Punishment and Capture. In P. Scraton & J. McCulloch (Eds.), The Violence of Incarceration (Vol. 6, pp. 187–208). New York, NY: Routledge. Sexton, J., & Lee, E. (2006). Figuring the Prison: Prerequisites of Torture at Abu Ghraib. Antipode, 38(5), 1005–1022. Tetreault, M. A. (2006). The sexual politics of Abu Ghraib: Hegemony, spectacle, and the global war on terror. NWSA Journal, 18(3), 33–50.

[ix] Agathangelou, A. M., Bassichis, D., & Spira, T. L. (2008). Intimate investments: Homonormativity, global lockdown, and seductions of empire. Radical History Review, 100, p. 136; Rodríguez, 2006, p. 47; see also Puar, 2004, 2007; Richter-Montpetit, M. (2007). Empire, desire and violence: a queer transnational feminist reading of the prisoner “abuse” in Abu Ghraib and the question of “gender equality.” International Feminist Journal of Politics, 9(1), 38–59.

[x] During the Cold War, the US security state started to systematically train allied militaries and secret services in the art of torture.

[xi] See Melanie Richter-Montpetit 2014b: Beyond the Erotics of Orientalism: Homeland Security, Liberal War and the Pacification of the Global Frontier unpublished PhD thesis.

[xii] As the Senate Torture Report notes, the CIA rationalized the use of torture in reference also to an Israeli Court ruling that justifies torture in the context of the “ticking bomb scenario.”

[xiii] These insights have been brought to bear on the discipline of International Relations in particular by Anna M. Agathangelou whose work on for instance liberal internationalism (2010a), human security (2013b) and LGBT human rights (2013a) pushes critical IR theory to account for the foundational role of anti-Black murder and violence – “productive morbidity” (Agathangelou, 2013b, p. 156) – in the constitution of the global liberal order. See Agathangelou, A. M. (2009a). Economies of Blackness and Sacrifice of (Homo) Virilities: Bodies, Accumulations, Disaster (s) and Slaughterhouses. Margins, Peripheries and Excluded Bodies: International Relations and States of Exception, New York: Routledge. Agathangelou, A. M. (2009b). Imperial (Re) assemblages and Reconstructions: Intimate Terrors and Ontological Possibilities. InTensions, (3). Retrieved from http://www.yorku.ca/intent/issue3/articles/pdfs/AnnaMAgathangelouArticle.pdf. Agathangelou, A. M. (2010a). Bodies of desire, terror and the war in Eurasia: Impolite disruptions of (neo) liberal internationalism, neoconservatism and the “new” Imperium. Millennium-Journal of International Studies, 38(3), 693–722. Agathangelou, A. M. (2010b). Necro-(neo) colonizations and economies of blackness: Of slaughters, “accidents”, “disasters” and captive flesh. In S. Biswas & S. Nair (Eds.), International Relations and States of Exception: Margins, Peripheries, and Excluded Bodies (pp. 186–209). London & New York: Routledge. Agathangelou, A. M. (2011). Bodies to the slaughter: global racial reconstructions, Fanon’s combat breath, and wrestling for life. Somatechnics, 1(1), 209–248. Agathangelou, A. M. (2012). Anxieties of Global Empire: Politics of Visibility, Epistemologies and “Terror.” In M. C. Hellmich & A. Behnke (Eds.), Knowing al-Qaeda: the epistemology of terrorism (pp. 29–56). Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Agathangelou, A. M. (2013a). Neoliberal Geopolitical Order and Value: Queerness as a Speculative Economy and Anti-Blackness as Terror. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 15(4), 453–476. Agathangelou, A. M. (2013b). Slavery remains in reconstruction and development. In M. K. Pasha (Ed.), Globalization, Difference, and Human Security (pp. 152–165). Routledge.

[xiv] Building on the work of Native feminist and Afro-Pessimist theorists, in particular Andrea Smith’s (2006, 2012) path breaking theory of “the three pillars of White supremacy” and Frank B. Wilderson III’s (2010) Red, White & Black, this article is part of a larger project suggesting that we can only meaningfully interrogate the operations of violence (including against Orientalized subjects) in contemporary U.S. security making – including through sexualized technologies of power – by accounting for the foundational role of anti-Black racism and the settler colonial character of the U.S. social formation. See Melanie Richter-Montpetit 2014b: Beyond the Erotics of Orientalism: Homeland Security, Liberal War and the Pacification of the Global Frontier unpublished PhD thesis.

[xv] In September 2006, the U.S. Army replaced this Field Manual (FM 34-52) with Field Manual 2-22.3, called Human Intelligence Collector Operations.

[xvi] Rejali, 2009, pp. 446-453.

[xvii] Rejali, 2009, pp. 466-468.

[xviii] Jehl, D. (2005). Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/09/politics/09intel.html. See also Rejali, 2009, pp. 504-505).

[xix] Soufan, A. (2009, April 23). My Tortured Decision. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/opinion/23soufan.html

[xx] McClintock, 2009, p. 64.

[xxi] Richter-Montpetit, 2007; see also Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and gender in Islam: Historical roots of a modern debate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Haritaworn, J., Tauqir, T., & Erdem, E. (2008). Gay imperialism: Gender and sexuality discourse in the “war on terror.” In A. Kuntsman & E. Miyake (Eds.), Out of place: Interrogating silences in queerness/raciality (pp. 71–95). York: Raw Nerve. Nayak, M. (2006). Orientalism and “saving” US state identity after 9/11. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 8(1), 42–61. Nusair, 2008; Razack, 2008; Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In C. Nelson & L. Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (pp. 271–313). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Yeğenoğlu, M. (1998). Colonial fantasies: Towards a feminist reading of Orientalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Cambridge. Zine, J. (2006). Between orientalism and fundamentalism: Muslim women and feminist engagement. In K. Hunt & K. Rygiel (Eds.), En) Gendering the war on terror: War stories and camouflaged politics (pp. 27–50). Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

[xxii] See in particular Puar, 2004; 2007.

[xxiii] Taguba, 2004, p. 19; as cited in Richter-Montpetit, 2007, p. 45.

[xxiv] See Puar, 2007; Owens, P. 2010 “Torture, sex and military orientalism.” Third World Quarterly 31(7), 1041-1056. Richter-Montpetit, 2007

[xxv] Richter-Montpetit 2007, 2014a

[xxvi] Jones, A. R., & Fay, G. R. (2004, September 7). AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Prison and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. U.S. Army, p. 78. Retrieved from https://www.thetorturedatabase.org/document/fay-jones-report-executive-summary-re-referrals-325th-military-intelligence-battalion-377th?search_url=search/apachesolr_search&search_args=filters=sm_cck_field_doc_type:65%26solrsort=tds_cck_field_doc_date%20desc

[xxvii] See also Kuntsman, A. (2009). Figurations of violence and belonging: Queerness, migranthood and nationalism in cyberspace and beyond. Bern: Peter Lang. Philipose, 2007; Puar, 2007; Pierce, S., & Rao, A. (2006). Discipline and the other body: Humanitarianism, violence, and the colonial exception. In S. Pierce & A. Rao (Eds.), Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism (pp. 1–35). New York & Durham: Duke University Press. Roberts, D. (2007). Torture and the Biopolitics of Race. University of Miami Law Review, 62, 229–246. Roberts, D. (2011). Fatal invention: How science, politics, and big business re-create race in the twenty-first century. New York and London: The New Press. Wacquant, L. (2002). From Slavery to Mass Incarceration. New Left Review, 13(January-February), 41–60.

[xxviii] Bybee, J. (2005). Memorandum to Alberto R. Gonzales Counsel to the President, Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A, August 1. In K. J. Greenberg & J. L. Dratel (Eds.), The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (pp. 172–217). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 207.

[xxix] Bybee, 2005, p. 172.

[xxx] Bybee, 2005, p. 172.

[xxxi] Bybee, 2005, p. 172.

[xxxii] Bybee, 2005, p. 172.

[xxxiii] Bybee, 2005, p. 173.

[xxxiv] Bybee, 2005, p. 174; my emphasis.

[xxxv] Bybee 2005, p. 175.

[xxxvi] A prominent example for the “return” of torture argument among critiques of the War on Terror is the work of David Rose. Rose’s in-depth feature articles (cf. 2004) and book (2008) on the use of torture and other human rights violations by the U.S. government in the War on Terror constitute an important intervention into the myth of the instrumentality of “enhanced interrogation.” However, his analysis rests on a problematic reading of the modern penal system, writing that European rulers abolished torture in the second half of the 18th century and then laments the “terrible comeback” of torture following 9/11 (Rose, 2004, p. 142).

[xxxvii] Sexton, J. (2006). Race, nation, and empire in a blackened world. Radical History Review, 2006(95), p. 252.

[xxxviii] For a discussion on how they inform “mundane” everyday technologies of violence in U.S. civilian prisons/SHU super-max prisons and immigration detention, see Alexander (2010), Davis (2003) and Pinar (2001, 2007). The reign of terror under then Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge (1972-1991) is a particularly notorious recent example of systematic police torture.

[xxxix] Hartman, S. (2007). Lose your mother: A journey along the Atlantic slave route. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. 6; as cited in Sexton, J. (2010a). People-of-Color-Blindness Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery. Social Text, 28(2 103), p. 37.

[xl] Dayan, 2011, p. 89; see also Hartman, S. V. (1997). Scenes of subjection: Terror, slavery, and self-making in nineteenth-century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 82; Sexton, J. (2010b). “The Curtain of the Sky”: An Introduction. Critical Sociology, 36(1), p. 15.

[xli] Dayan, C. (2011). The Law is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 139.

[xlii] Morgan, E. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 312.

[xliii] See Richter-Montpetit 2014a,b.

[xliv] See in particular Davis, A. (2002). From the convict lease system to the super-max prison. In J. James (Ed.), States of confinement: Policing, detention, and prisons (revised and updated) (pp. 60–74). Palgrave Macmillan. Davis, A. Y. (2003). Are prisons obsolete. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. Davis, A. Y. (2005). Abolition democracy: Beyond prisons, torture, and empire interviews with Angela Y. Davis. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. Davis, A. Y. (2007). Sexual Coercion, Prisons, and Female Responses. In T. McKelvey (Ed.), One of the guys: Women as aggressors and torturers (pp. 23–36). Emeryville, CA: Seal Press (CA). Gilmore, R. W. (2006). Golden gulag: Prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press. Gilmore, R. W. (2009). Race, prisons and war: scenes from the history of US violence. Socialist Register, 45, 73–87. Hartman, 1997; James, 2000, 2005, 2007; Rodríguez, 2007, 2007, 2008a; Sexton 2006, 2007, 2008; Sexton & Lee, 2006; Shakur, 1987; Sudbury, 2002, 2004, 2005.

[xlv] As cited in Rodríguez, 2007, p. 39.

[xlvi] As cited in Dayan, 2011, p. 61.

[xlvii] Dayan, 2011, p. 195.

[xlviii] See Dayan, 2011, p. 181; see also Agathangelou, 2010b; Dillon, S. (2012). Possessed by Death The Neoliberal-Carceral State, Black Feminism, and the Afterlife of Slavery. Radical History Review, 2012(112), 113–125. Dillon, S. (2013). Fugitive life: race, gender, and the rise of the neoliberal-carceral state [PhD thesis]. University of Minnesota. Rodríguez, 2006, 2007, 2008a; Sexton, 2007; Sexton & Lee, 2006; Shakur, A. (1987). Assata: an autobiography. London: Zed Books. Wilderson III, F. B. (2007). The prison slave as hegemony’s (silent) scandal. In J. James (Ed.), Warfare in the American homeland: Policing and prison in a penal democracy (pp. 23–34). Durham & London: Duke University Press.

[xlix] See Agathangelou, 2009a, 2009b, 2010a, 2010b, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Dillon, 2012, 2013; Fanon, F. (2008). Black skin, white masks. New York, NY: Grove Press. Mbembe, A. (2003). Necropolitics. Public Culture, 15(1), 11–40. Hartman, 1997; Patterson, O. (1982). Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Sharpe, C. (2009). Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Sharpe, C. (2012). Blackness, Sexuality, and Entertainment. American Literary History, 827–841. Sexton, 2006, 2010a, 2010b; Sexton, J. (2007). Racial profiling and the societies of control. In J. James (Ed.), Warfare in the American homeland: Policing and prison in a penal democracy (pp. 197–218). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Sexton, J. (2008). Amalgamation schemes: Antiblackness and the critique of multiracialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Sexton & Lee, 2006; Shakur, 1987; Wilderson, 2007. Wilderson III, F. B. (2010). Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

[l] Agathangelou, 2010b, p. 200.

[li] Dayan, C. (2007). The story of cruel and unusual. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 12-13.

[lii] HoSang, D. M., & LaBennett, O. (2012). Introduction. In D. M. HoSang, O. LaBennett, & L. Pulido (Eds.), Racial Formation in the Twenty-first Century (pp. 1–18). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, p. 5.

[liii] hooks, bell. (1997). Representing whiteness in the black imagination. In R. Frankenberg (Ed.), Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism. (pp. 165–179). Durham, NC: Duke University Press, p. 178.


7 thoughts on “Why Torture When Torture Does Not Work? Orientalism, Anti-Blackness and the Persistence of White Terror

  1. Pingback: Torture and raison d’état | geographical imaginations

  2. While it seems tautologic that uncivilized behavior should be intolerable to a civil society, EL Doctorow correctly identified the eternal presence of external destructive forces (Bad Man from Bodie). Is there a civil solution to uncivil attack? Left untended, weeds will always choke out the crop. The great paradox of civilization may be the need to employ uncivil/destructive processes to avoid destruction (Blue must shoot the Bad Man). The results -either way- reverberate through generations despite protestations to the contrary.


  3. Pingback: Imagine the Power: Disembodied Violence in Fantasy Traditions | bigtallwords

  4. Pingback: Black Lives Matter, and the Question of Nonviolence | Stop! We are good times

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