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

Case Study: Police/ Military Torture in Nigeria

A cartoon depicting police torture by Nigerian activist and artist Chijioke Ugwu Clement.
A cartoon depicting police torture by Nigerian activist and artist Chijioke Ugwu Clement.

History: Torture’s Colonial Roots

Prior to the British colonization of Nigeria in 1861, the country enforced laws through traditional African methods and largely without violence (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 9). Community policing was closely tied with social and religious structures, therefore placing law enforcement in the hands of age grades (“formal organizations whose membership is based on pre-determined age range”), secret societies, and/or vocational guilds (hunters, farmers, or fishermen) (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 9). The purpose of this societal organization was to maintain order within communities through the responsibility of community members themselves.

With the colonization of the country, however, the role of law enforcement switched gears. Local law enforcement was no longer intended to serve the best interests of Nigerian communities, but rather for the economic and political gains of British colonizers (ex: suppressing resistance to British rule) (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 9).

As colonizers expanded their rule, they began establishing “local, decentralized police forces” (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 9). The demographics of these police forces were chosen strategically, comprising of officers who were linguistically and culturally distinct from the communities they were presiding over (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 9 & Asuzu). Naturally, this created a separation between locals and police forces, and violence became a necessary tool.

Today, the history of colonial policing remains strong, as torture and violence continues to be used by Nigerian law enforcement. As explained by the Human Rights Watch, “The use of violence and repression from the beginning of the colonial era, marked a dislocation in the relationship between the police and local communities, which has characterized law enforcement practices in Nigeria ever since” (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 10). The destructive and oppressive actions of the British colonizers created a long-lasting division between police and community members. Chinua Asuzu, a Nigerian scholar, describes this division, saying, “although the colonial power has left, the police remains a colonial police” (Asuzu, p. 1).


Nigeria Under International Radar

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture describes torture in Nigeria as an “intrinsic part of how the police operate within the country” (United Nations, 2014, p. 2). Unlike in Guantanamo, where torture is committed behind closed doors and by the country’s highest officials, torture in Nigeria is commonly implemented by local law enforcement. Torture tactics are used to gain intelligence, close cases, and sometimes even conducted arbitrarily (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005). From petty thefts to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Nigerian citizens are susceptible to torture by police, military, and other law enforcement agencies (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005). Though Nigeria has signed (but not ratified) the UN Convention Against Torture, there is no formal law that criminalizes the use of torture (United Nations, 2014 & “Nigeria’s torture,” 2014).

Amnesty International has conducted several years of research and produced numerous reports on Nigeria’s use of torture (Smith, 2015). Their findings detail unimaginable, widespread acts that have brought Nigeria under the radar of the international community.

Though Nigerian police claim to have a zero-tolerance torture policy, citizens show a clear, constant fear that says otherwise (“Nigeria,” 2014). Amnesty’s 2015 report titled, Stars on their Shoulders. Blood on their Hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military, is based on 412 interviews and over 90 photographs and videos (Stars on, 2015). The report reveals, “that since March 2011, more than 7,000 young men and boys died in military detention and more than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed since February 2012” (Stars on, 2015). Research conducted by the Center for Law Enforcement and Education found that “14.8 percent of Nigerians said they had been beaten by the police, 22.5 percent said police had threatened to shoot them in the past, and 73.2 percent said they had witnessed the police beating another person” (“Rest in Pieces,” 2005, p. 10). Police and military officers commonly perform severe beatings, tooth extractions, rape, and the shooting of extremities (United Nations, 2014). Torture is not limited to physical abuse, however, as detainees are often also subject to mock executions and forced to witness executions or torture against others (United Nations, 2014).

One torture victim, only 15 years old, described being detained along with 50 others in a military sweep (Lizard, 2014). In his three week detention he was burned with molten plastic, beaten, forced to walk over broken glass, and forced to watch the execution of other prisoners (Lizard, 2014 & “Nigeria’s torture,” 2014).


Boko Haram Fuels Torture Use

In 2002, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram was founded in Nigeria. Since then, much of Nigeria’s police and military torture has been in the name of national security (Smith, 2015). Boko Haram regularly carries out bombings, kidnappings, and attacks on civilians (Lizard, 2014). Amnesty International reported that during operations against Boko Haram, law enforcement has “committed countless acts of torture; hundreds, if not thousands, of Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance; and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention as a result of starvation, extreme overcrowding and denial of medical assistance” (Smith, 2015). In trying to keep their citizens safe, Nigerian law enforcement is committing atrocities.

Acknowledging the human rights violations committed by Nigerian officers, Executive Secretary of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, stated, “We will have about 300 soldiers for training on human rights; we are sure that after the training the misconception on the issue of human rights, violations will be brought to an end” (Adekunle, 2015).


Development and Torture

Nigerian torture certainly varies from the Guantanamo Bay example of my previous post. Perpetrators of torture in Nigeria are local law enforcement while in the U.S. the highest officials of the federal government are the predominant perpetrators. Nigerian torture also is not hidden behind closed doors, as torture is by the U.S. government. The most significant difference, however, is the discourse surrounding Nigerian torture.

Not once, in the dozens of articles I read in preparation for this post, did I read the phrase “enhanced interrogation.” The word “torture” was used to describe all of the human rights violations committed by Nigerian law enforcement. The United States claims “enhanced interrogation” as a means of national security intelligence and too often this description is accepted; in Nigeria, though, isn’t the defense against Boko Haram considered national security? Why then, is only the word “torture” used to describe the actions of Nigeria’s officers?

Amnesty International is calling on Nigeria to “put an immediate end to the use of torture and all other forms of ill-treatment of suspects and detainees in military and police custody in Nigeria” (United Nations, 2014). Amnesty, along with countless other groups, has spent over a decade on the grounds in Nigeria researching the use of torture and ultimately demanding its extermination. Why hasn’t Guantanamo Bay received this level of scrutiny?

Nigeria and the United States, two countries with differing levels of development, both perpetrate torture. Yes, there are clear differences between Nigerian and U.S. torture, but why is there a heavier focus on one over the other? Who determines which torture is more severe, important, or requiring of attention? Does the role of the U.S. as a dominant, developed international force exempt it from the type of scrutiny that Nigeria receives? I also question, should the British be held responsible for their role in the introduction of violence and torture? Though they would never realistically be held accountable, it is nonetheless interesting to consider. Nigeria’s use of torture is undoubtedly a severe violation of human rights; the question remains, though, is Nigeria criticized more harshly than other countries that also use torture?

Check out this short news clip reporting on some of Amnesty’s findings and a bit of info on Boko Haram. Pay attention to the framing of the story and the rhetoric of the reporter.

Next Week: A look into the media portrayal of torture worldwide. Does the media portray first world torture differently than third world torture? I hope to gain a better understanding of the global perception of torture, and the influence that media plays in what actions are officially classified as torture.



Adekunle. (2015, August 20). Army identifies soldiers who tortured civilian in Nasarawa. Vanguard. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

Asuzu, C. (n.d.). Police and Torture in Nigeria [Scholarly project]. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

Lizard, W. (2014, September 18). Rights group accuses Nigeria of rampant torture. Al Jazeera. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

Nigeria ‘uses torture officers to extract confessions’ (2014, September 18). BBC. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

Nigeria’s torture chambers exposed in new report. (2014, September 18). Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

“Rest in Pieces” Police Torture and Deaths in Custody in Nigeria. (2005). Human Rights Watch, 17(11), a. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

Smith, D. (2015, June 3). Nigeria’s army behind countless acts of torture and 8,000 deaths, Amnesty says. The Guardian. Retrieved April 1, 2016, from

Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands. War crimes committed by the Nigerian military (Rep.). (2015, June). Retrieved April 1, 2016, from Amnesty International website:

United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council. (2014). Nigeria: Torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by Nigerian security forces (pp. 1-4). Retrieved April 1, 2016.