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Distributed for Seagull Books

Torture and the War on Terror

Translated by Gila Walker
with photographs by Ryan Lobo

Though the recent election of American President Barack Obama and his signing of the executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay signals a considerable shift away from the policies of the Bush era, the lessons to be learned from the war on terror will remain relevant and necessary for many years to come. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States government approved interrogation tactics for enemy combatant detainees that could be defined as torture, which was outlawed in Europe in the eighteenth century as well as prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In conjunction with these policies, the Bush administration vocally defended torture as a necessary tool in its war on terror.

In Torture and the War on Terror,TzvetanTodorov argues that the use of the terms “war” and “terror” dehumanize the enemy and permit treatment that would otherwise be impermissible. He examines the implications and corrupting impact of the attempt to impose “good” through violence and the attempt to spread democratic values by unethical means. Todorov asks: Can violence overcome violence? Does the need to protect one’s own country justify violating human rights? Invalidating one by one the political and ethical arguments in favor of torture, Todorov likens institutional torture to a cancer that is eroding our society and undermining the very fundamental democratic ideas of justice and right.


Torture and the War on Terror is a significant work in ethics, human rights, and political and social history by one of the world’s leading intellectuals, and its arguments will be influential in shaping our policies to come.


64 pages | 30 halftones | 4 1/4 x 6 1/4 | © 2009

The French List

Philosophy: Ethics

Political Science: Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations

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“The centerpiece of Todorov’s brief Torture and the War on Terror is a scathing indictment of the Bush administration’s rhetorical chicanery in declaring that so-called enhanced interrogation techniques—waterboarding, prolonged exposure to cold, mock executions—are not torture. . . . As Todorov shows, torture is inadmissible insofar as it constitutes an attack on the ‘very idea of humanity. It is the surest indication of the barbaric, of the extreme of human behavior that makes us reject the humanity of the other.’ If the legacy of humanism has anything to teach us, it is surely this. . . . There is no doubt that he has added depth and clarity to some of the most perplexing moral and political questions of our day.”

New Republic

 "In this honed, finely calibrated essay, Todorov refutes the notion that good can be imposed by force. More efficient is to embody one’s values and demonstrate their worth. . . . This is a concise and eloquent defence of what makes us truly human."

The Age

Table of Contents

Torture and the War on Terror
About the Photographs
   Ryan Lobo

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