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The U.S. Torture Memos and Democracy

Geneva Hub for Democracy Highlight Paper No. 6


Steven J. Barela

Release Date:

August 2016

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It has become widely known that after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the United States initiated a program of torture and ill-treatment against al-Qaeda suspects. What is less discussed is how exactly the Bush Administration legally justified this ill-treatment in a democracy that was legally bound by an international prohibition of the highest order. As a result this piece will have two objectives: 1) it will be demonstrated that international law in fact had a direct impact on the justifications found in the “torture memos” drafted by administration lawyers; 2) even if it did not stop torture, the flawed legal interpretation points to an impact on the public reaction and the democratic processes that followed in its aftermath.