Two Narratives of Torture

Ip, John | January 1, 2009

This article is about the normalization of interrogational torture and coercion from 2001 to 2008. The discussion focuses on two different narratives or accounts of torture. Each narrative signifies a certain view about the legality and wisdom of employing torture and coercion in interrogation. The first narrative centers on the key device of the normalization process: the ticking bomb scenario. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, legal academics have invoked the ticking bomb scenario in questioning the status of the absolute legal prohibition on torture. Versions of the ticking bomb scenario have also appeared in Bush administration documents and official statements that asserted the legality of torture and various coercive interrogation techniques. Additionally, the scenario has been reproduced in the media and popular culture, the most notable example being Fox’s counterterrorism drama, . The second narrative of torture challenges the logic of the ticking bomb scenario that underlies the first narrative. Academic commentators have highlighted the scenario’s numerous assumptions that render it a suspect guide to policy. Certain government actors, most notably the FBI and military lawyers, consistently rejected its logic and opposed the use of torture and coercion in interrogation. This second account also has a popular culture representative in Sci-Fi Channel’s . Thus, what we see is the replication of the same battles that have been fought over the treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” by real world actors at a discursive level in popular culture