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date: 14 December 2019

Summary and Keywords

Torture has recently become the focus of renewed scholarly attention, including a philosophical and political debate about whether torture is ever justified. The basic parameters of the debate revolve around the question whether there should be an absolute prohibition against torture or whether it is a lesser evil to torture a suspect for information to prevent a greater evil that menaces society. Historically, torture was not only common in times of war and social upheaval, but it was also openly practiced in many societies as an integral part of the judicial system. It was seen as an effective technique for obtaining “true” information as well as an appropriate punishment for the immoral and a useful deterrent against future misconduct. Both democratic and nondemocratic forms of government engage in ill-treatment and torture, but the existence of liberal democratic institutions reduces the incidence of torture. Since 9/11, there has been considerable debate over state use of torture, as some scholars have suggested that there is a profound shift in attitudes toward torture following the 9/11 attacks. Numerous works have provided detailed analyses and documentary evidence of the Bush administration’s incarceration and interrogation policies in the war on terror. Critics of torture charge that it is immoral because it involves the inhumane treatment of human beings. On the other hand, a number of scholars have argued that individual acts of torture by state officials are warranted in extreme situations.

Keywords: torture, state use of torture, war on terror, liberal democratic institutions, 9/11, terrorism, war, social upheavals

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