ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

'State Torture: Interviewing Perpetrators, Discovering Facilitators, Theorizing Cross-Nationality – Proposing “Torture 101” (Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 2012, pp. 45-69)'

  • State Torture: Interviewing Perpetrators, Discovering Facilitators, Theorizing Cross-Nationality - Proposing "Torture 101", Martha K. Huggins, State Crime Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 45-69


This article’s first theoretical proposition, that modern state torture systems contain four types of actors – perpetrators, facilitators, bureaucratic organizations, and bystanders – is followed by four additional propositions that link torture facilitation and bureaucracy to state torture system geography: (1) While facilitators span systemic boundaries – lending legitimacy, procuring resources, and managing protection – most torture perpetrators operate within the boundaries of their encapsulating micro systems. (2) Some torture facilitators traverse their own nation-state’s government and non-government bureaucracies, while others cross national boundaries. (3) Torture system actors operate from a legitimized position within normal bureaucratic organizations; they are not extra-systemic “deviant” outsiders and their torturing does not result from an atypical organizational “break down”. (4) Some torture facilitators – such as “private” military contract corporations – mediate between formal national and international bureaucracies and a privatized “terra incognita” – a “nether world” simultaneously inside and outside government and state. Such propositions emerged in spite of numerous data collection challenges, with secrecy and data validity ongoing stumbling-blocks to research. Power imbalances between researcher and researched enhanced outcomes in interviews with Brazilian torturers, while inhibiting obtaining information on torture by nation-states. An outcome of comparing torture by authoritarian Brazil (1964-85) and by post-“9/11” US at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo is “Torture 101” – a model that replaces “bad apple” and “broken bureaucracy” explanations for torture, with ten structural variables associated with systematic torture by modern states. It is recommended that since modern torture systems are global, those who study modern state torture must traverse states and theorize globally.

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