Conclusion: What is the relationship between levels of development and torture?


Torture Reality ≠ Torture Portrayal

Amnesty International describes torture as “A global crisis of barbarism, failure, and fear” (“Torture in 2014”). I think we can all agree that torture is indeed a global crisis and an international human rights issue. The question remains, however, do we apply Amnesty’s description to all acts of torture equally? Is torture in developed, particularly Western, countries more accepted than torture in the Global South?

The prevalence of torture throughout both developed and developing nations suggests that levels of development do not directly correlate with the occurrence of torture. The U.S, for example, continues to use torture in the name of national security and intelligence gathering; Spain and New Zealand join the U.S with their use of torture by law enforcement; Germany, France, and the United Kingdom all continue to accept and utilize intelligence that was obtained through illegal torture. All of these (and many more) developed, Western countries have direct and explicit ties to torture. But how often do you hear (via government officials, news outlets, etc.) about torture in these countries?

Research conducted on the media portrayal of Abu Ghraib reveals significant deficiencies in the reporting of torture by U.S news outlets. The research report explains:

Even when provided with considerable photographic and documentary evidence and the critical statements of governmental and nongovernmental actors, the nation’s leading media proved unable or unwilling to construct a coherent challenge to the administration’s claims about its policies on torturing detainees (Bennett et al, 2006).

The lack of demand for change by the U.S media directly results in a weakened perception of torture by U.S citizens. It has been established that torture occurs at all levels of development; the portrayal of torture, however, appears to play a significant role in the determining what actions receive attention, and what is categorized/ accepted as torture.


A Blurred Line

Though there is an international definition of torture, established by the UN Convention Against Torture, there remains a blurred line on what actions constitute torture. In a recent interview with NBC, John Brennan, director of the CIA, stated that the “agency will not engage in harsh enhanced interrogation practices” such as waterboarding (Engel & Windrem, 2016). In response to comments made by presidential candidates, Brennan said, “I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure” (Engel & Windrem, 2016). Not once throughout the interview did Brennan refer to CIA actions as “torture.” He continually used the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” when discussing the horrific acts of the CIA.

Even Lester Holt, the reporter summarizing the interview said, “Waterboarding is a controversial technique used in the past that many call torture” and that the CIA would no longer implement “harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding” (Engel & Windrem, 2016). This rhetoric leaves dangerous room for the possibility that waterboarding is not actually torture (which we know is incorrect). When viewers hear “enhanced interrogation” over and over, “torture” begins to feel less significant. It was not until the very end of the report that the word “torture” was actually used. Waterboarding is indeed torture, yet some continue to refuse to call it what it is.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz says he doesn’t believe that Waterboarding is torture. Waterboarding undoubtedly is an act which inflicts severe pain and suffering with the intent of obtaining intelligence, therefore falling under the UN definition of torture (“United Nations”). Cruz said, “Well under the definition of torture, no it [waterboarding] is not” (Kampmark, 2016).

The UN’s definition of torture is just loose enough to provide governments with grey area. Personally, I feel that “pain and suffering” should be descriptive enough for individuals to know what actions constitute torture. When it comes down to national security, however, those words take on a new weight and continue to be exploited, manipulated, and redefined by governments across the world.


Western Nationalism & Rationalization

As I began to explore in my post on Guantanamo Bay, and again in my post on media portrayal of torture, the United States attempts to legitimize torture in the name of national security. The rhetoric surrounding much of Western torture is centered on the safety of citizens. Governments harness the fear of their citizens, and present torture (what they call “enhanced interrogation”) as a necessary avenue of intelligence gathering. Even though the CIA senate torture report deemed Guantanamo torture unsuccessful at gathering useful and/or accurate information, governments use fear and nationalism to gain the backing of their constituents.

The 2016 U.S presidential elections have focused heavily on torture and its use to combat terrorism. Republican candidates generally support “enhanced interrogation” (read: torture) against suspected threats, and have exemplified the exploitation of fear that Western governments frequently use. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in particular have voiced (loudly) their beliefs that torture is absolutely necessary for U.S and international security.

In several GOP debates the topic of torture has been discussed; almost always, these discussions frame torture as something that the government has no choice but to perpetrate. Ted Cruz once stated, “I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe” (Engel & Windrem, 2016). Trump has said on multiple occasions, “I would bring back waterboarding and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” (Engel & Windrem, 2016). Following the recent Brussels attack, Trump stated that he would close U.S borders and, “would try to expand the laws to go beyond waterboarding” (Minnis, 2016). Even in these few examples you find the appeal to fear; the threat that without torture the lives of U.S citizens are in danger.

Trump’s rhetoric specifically focuses on the other-ing of religious groups, ethnic/racial groups, and nations. He presents certain groups as un-American and a threat to national security, which has detrimental consequences. Of course Isis is a threat, but not every Muslim is a threat; of course some terrorist attacks happen by immigrants, but not every immigrant is a terrorist. By focusing on an “us vs. them” plot, Trump is able to convince a large group of Americans that torture is necessary. He uses his slogan of “Make America Great Again” to promote blinding nationalism.

The reality of torture is that it is not necessary, or even consistently effective, for preserving national security. Much of the Western torture I found was perpetrated by some of the highest government officials, of which rely on the rationalization of torture in the name of America’s safety. While these Western countries are torturing behind locked doors “in the name of national security” they are simultaneously demonizing non-Western countries (ex: Nigeria, Syria, Mexico, the Philippines, etc.) for torturing (“Torture in 2014”).


Development & Torture: A Summary

I began my first blog post a tad unsure of where my research would take me. My research has enlightened me immensely and exemplified the discord between the portrayal of torture and the reality of its occurrence. Here are some of the key findings, highlights, and points I hope you takeaway from my posts:

  • Torture is not directly related to the level of development of a country; it occurs across the globe in countries of varying development.
  • Media portrayal of torture significantly impacts the public’s perception, tolerance, and categorization of torture; the portrayal of torture is not necessarily accurate to reality.
  • Mutua’s “Savage, Victim, Savior complex” can help explain the media portrayal of torture (Mutua, 2001).
  • Western/ developed torture is more widely accepted, while non-Western/ developing torture is demonized and criticized.
  • Western torture often relies on nationalism and rationalization to legitimize government use of torture.

Thank you for reading and learning with me throughout these posts!



Bennett, W., Lawrence, R., & Livingston, S. (2006). None Dare Call It Torture: Indexing and the Limits of Press Independence in the Abu Ghraib Scandal. Journal of Communication, 56, 467-485. Retrieved April 12, 2016.

Engel, R., & Windrem, R. (2016, April 11). Director Brennan: CIA Won’t Waterboard Again — Even if Ordered by Future President. NBC. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from

Kampmark, B., Dr. (2016, April 9). Keeping Torture “Fashionable”: The US Presidential Elections. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from

Minnis, G. (2016, March 23). Donald Trump’s Brussels Response: Close US Borders, Use Torture Tactics. Latin Post. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from

Mutua, M. (2001). Savage, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights. Harvard International Law Journal, 42(1), 201-209. Retrieved March 3, 2015.

United Nations, Convention Against Torture. (1994, July 16). Hrweb. Retrieved March 3, 2016, from

Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises. (2014). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from

The Media Portrayal of Torture & Its Consequences


Shhh…Don’t say the “t” word

When reading articles regarding U.S torture, you are almost guaranteed to find adjectives such as “brutal,” “harsh,” and “extreme” used to describe the torture by the CIA at Guantanamo (Mirkinson, 2014). Of course, we can’t forget the “enhanced interrogation” phrase that many also like to throw around. Though the findings of the CIA Senate Torture Report concludes that the actions at Guantanamo were indeed torture, it continues to be difficult to find a news outlet that will use the forbidden “t” word.

With the release of the senate report there was naturally an influx of articles and news reports on Guantanamo. Jack Mirkinson of the Huffington Post explains that though the information is newly released, what isn’t new is “the media’s persistent dance around the word at the heart of the entire story: ‘torture’” (Mirkinson, 2014). He references one study, which found that when the Bush administration began using waterboarding as an interrogation method, many major media outlets stopped defining the practice as torture (Mirkinson, 2014). Mirkinson provides examples of some of the country’s largest news outlets, including MSNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, all of which avoided using the word torture (Mirkinson, 2014).

Where the word torture is most commonly found is in alternative news outlets such as Truthout, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing independent news and commentary on a daily basis” (Ahmed, 2014). In an article titled, The United States Is Committing Brutal Acts of Torture Right Now, Truthout writer Nafeez Ahmed writes, “Media coverage of the Senate report has largely whitewashed the extent to which torture has always been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since the Second World War…” (Ahmed, 2014). AlternativeNews, The Real News Network, and AlterNet are all additional independent news outlets that not only use the word torture but also explicitly call out mainstream media for failing to do so. The problem remains though, that a large portion, I would suspect the majority, of Americans rely on mainstream news outlets for their information.


The Double Standard

The rhetoric used by the U.S mainstream media in regards to foreign torture, on the other hand, is almost astonishing. One New York Time’s headline reads, Organizations Say Torture Is Widespread in Libya Jails (Stack, 2012). A Washington Post article claims, China must be pressed to end torture by police (Wang, 2015). The list can continue for pages, with no hesitation from U.S news outlets to use the word torture when referring to other countries.

What is particularly interesting is the lack of consistency in U.S reporting. A study from the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard reveals a significant shift in the way that U.S news outlets have covered torture. From the 1930’s until 2004, newspapers that reported on waterboarding almost always considered it torture; “The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles” (Linkins, 2010). Following 2002 (around the time when the Bush administration began implementing waterboarding), those same newspapers rarely referred to waterboarding as torture; “The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 1.4% of articles. The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles. The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1.6% of articles. USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture” (Linkins, 2010).

When it comes to other countries’ use of waterboarding, the study showed no reluctance to use the “t” word:

In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles when the United States was the perpetrator (Linkins, 2010).


Development and Torture

Spain and New Zealand join the United States in the group of developed countries that use torture (Gallagher, 2014 & Brooking, 2014). Additionally, the Human Rights Watch has accused France, Germany and the United Kingdom of using intelligence that was gathered by using torture (“No Questions,” 2010). There are, of course, numerous other developed countries that use torture but receive minimal attention (Noack, 2014). Why then, is there little mainstream media coverage of these developed, particularly Western, countries?

It seems that Western, especially American, news outlets are the groups afraid to call Western torture what it truly is. CJ Werlemen, a writer for the Middle East Eye, has no hesitation in calling out the U.S, writing, “Americans are pro-torture and proud of it” (Werleman, 2016). An article in the Iran Daily is titled, Guantanamo prisoner recounts ordeal, tortured by guards (“Guantanamo prisoner,” 2016). To my surprise, alongside Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Burundi, China, Vietnam, Syria, Eritrea, and Iran, the United Nations Human Rights Council recently called out the U.S and U.K for torture (“United Nations,” 2016).

Other organizations and media outlets, though, place a much larger emphasis on developing, non-Western countries that torture. One article by The Guardian is titled, Afghanistan officials sanctioned murder, torture and rape, says report (Graham-Harrison, 2015). Even Amnesty International uses different rhetoric when discussing U.S torture versus discussing other countries that torture. Their headline for U.S torture reads, for example, U.S Needs Accountability for Torture (“Demand Accountability”). Their Mexico torture campaign, on the other hand, reads, Torture in Mexico is Out of Control, followed by horrific descriptions of Mexican torture (“Police and soldiers”). “Out of Control” is quite a powerful phrase and creates a very specific picture of Mexican torture. Amnesty’s current torture campaign states that their “priority countries” are Mexico, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, coincidentally all non-Western countries (“Global Campaign”).

The studies, headlines, and articles show a clear focus on torture in developing, non-Western countries. Though torture occurs in countless developed nations, there is a lack of demand for developed, Western countries’ accountability. The rhetoric surrounding torture in developing, non-Western countries convey barbarism and ruthlessness while weaker words such as “brutal,” “enhanced,” or “harsh” are used to describe Western torture. This language choice is powerful, influencing perceptions and ultimately categorization. Though the same actions may be occurring in two different countries, the way in which each is portrayed impacts the public’s tolerance for those actions. Hearing that the U.S is using enhanced interrogation, for example, is much different than hearing that torture in Mexico is out of control. This discrepancy determines which countries get demonized and which countries are left to perpetrate torture behind closed doors. Hearing “out of control” conveys urgency, but isn’t the CIA’s torture at Guantanamo also “out of control?” When the media, activist organizations, and news sources stop considering an action to be torture, is that action no longer torture? Why does media portrayal appear to supersede international law? Perhaps most importantly, why are developing, non-Western countries portrayed as savage, while developing countries are also committing horrific acts?


Next Week: A summary of findings and conclusion on the relationship between development and torture.



Ahmed, N. (2014, December 23). The United States Is Committing Brutal Acts of Torture Right Now. Truthout. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Brooking, R. (2013, September 30). 80% of countries use torture – New Zealand is one. Pundit. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from–-new-zealand-is-one

Country Classification (Rep.). (2014). Retrieved April 7, 2016, from World Economic Situation and Prospects website:

Demand Accountability for Torture and Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Gallagher, E. (2014, February 4). Spain: More than 6,600 cases of torture or ill-treatment by police since 2004. Revolution News. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Graham-Harrison, E. (2015, March 3). Afghanistan officials sanctioned murder, torture and rape, says report. The Guardian. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Global Campaign to Stop Torture – Focus on priority countries. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Guantanamo prisoner recounts ordeal, tortured by guards. (2014, December 14). The Iran Daily. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Linkins, J. (2010, June 30). Once America Started Waterboarding, Major Newspapers Stopped Referring To It As Torture, Says Study. The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Mirkinson, J. (2014, April 14). The Media Is Still Dancing Around The Word ‘Torture’. The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

No Questions Asked (Rep.). (2010, June 29). Retrieved April 7, 2016, from Human Rights Watch website:

Noack, R. (2014, December 12). Most countries are against torture – but most have also been accused of it. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Police and soldiers rape, beat up, suffocate and electrocute men and women as a way to get supposed ‘confessions’. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Stack, L. (2012, January 26). Organizations Say Torture Is Widespread in Libya Jails. The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2016, from

United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Thirty-first session. (2016, February 18). Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Wang, M. (2015, August 21). China must be pressed to end torture by police. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from

Werleman, C. (2016, April 5). ‘Americans are pro-torture and proud of it.’ Middle East Eye. Retrieved April 9, 2016, from