The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 reopened what many people in the United States had long assumed was a settled ethical question: Is torture ever morally permissible? Within days, some began to suggest that, in these new circumstances, the new answer was “yes.” Mainstreaming Torture argues that September 11 did not, as some have said, “change everything.”
Institutionalized state torture remains as wrong today as it was on the day before those terrible attacks. Furthermore, U.S. practices during the “war on terror” are rooted in a history that began long before September 11, a history that includes both support for torture regimes abroad and the use of torture in American jails and prisons.
This is a book for anyone who cares about how institutionalized torture affects its victims, its practitioners, and the nation that gives it a home.
Philosophers, theologians, and political scientists may have a special interest in the book’s ethical argument: Most ethical views of torture miss the point, because they treat torture as a series of isolated actions that arise in moments of extremity. In fact, institutionalized state torture is as an ongoing, historically and socially embedded practice. Understanding torture this way reveals its implications for human virtue and flourishing.
An examination of torture’s effect on the four cardinal virtues—courage, temperance, justice, and practical wisdom—suggests specific ways in which each of these is deformed in a society that countenances torture.
Mainstreaming Torture concludes with the observation that if the United States is to come to terms with its involvement in institutionalized state torture, there must be a full and official accounting of what has been done, and those responsible at the highest levels must be held accountable.
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (May 6, 2014)