Nov 28 2011

Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 he pledged to reject the use of torture in war. When he took office he signed an Executive Order expressly prohibiting torture. But, in the years since, he has turned down three opportunities to formalize torture prohibition. According to Eric Lewis writing for the New York Times on November 21st, Obama “has made it clear that criminal prosecutions for torture will not go forward; he has opposed the creation of a truth commission to examine events comprehensively; and he has affirmatively intervened to stop civil litigation by detainees against their torturers.” As Republican candidates for President debate each other, the acceptability of torture as a tactic of war is once more up for discussion. Michele Bachmann in a debate in mid-November declared, “If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country.”

Meanwhile, a new report on torture by the Asian Center for Human Rights alleges that the US’s strong Asian ally, India, has a terrible record on domestic use of torture. The organization found that “[m]ore than 14,000 suspects died while being held in police or judicial custody between 2001 and 2010” in India. India is the world’s largest democracy, and along with the US, the two nations are global symbols of liberal democracies – countries where the practice of torture would ordinarily be expected to be anathema. How does torture become acceptable within the political framework of a democracy where people are ruled by their consent? Is it a paradox, an aberration? Is it a standard by which to measure the strength of a democracy?

A new book called Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India by political science professor Jinee Lokaneeta explores these questions in great detail.

GUEST: Jinee Lokaneeta, Assistant Professor in the political science department at Drew University in New Jersey

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