Rhetoric in the Time of Torture argues for a renewed attention to the rhetorical dimensions of torture, in light of the U.S.’s post-9/11 reliance on heavy interrogation techniques. Rhetoricians (Goodale, Foley, Foss and Griffin, etc.) have already begun parsing how violence and rhetoric intersect, and this book contributes to and extends such work to consider interrogational torture as a possible site for rhetorical violence. Central to this project is the question of where rhetorical theory fits into a world in which people torture others to make them speak.
While my treatment of torture as a subject focuses largely on 21st century contexts, interrogational torture has long functioned within a troubling ecology of foreign policy, covert intelligence operations, even the treatment of domestic terrorists. In his seminal work on the history of the human rights movement, Aryah Neier notes that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11 in many ways changed the human rights conversation, as nations like the U.S. sought the authority to imprison and punish suspected terrorists. And this shift’s full repercussions remain unclear. Debates over “extended administrative detention without charges,” for example, have not yet been resolved, and the human rights movement is still fighting to persuade governments to respect the civil liberties of those captured in the War on Terror. Further, Neier remarks, “[t]he use of coercive measures up to and including torture against those suspected of involvement in terrorism […] still has significant political support in the United States” (22).
At the heart of my research is the idea that rhetoric has the potential for both “unmaking” and “making,” depending on its forms of articulation and disarticulation, its movement and allegiances, its relationship to spaces and sites for world-making. I chart several of interrogational torture’s rhetorical dimensions, ultimately questioning the utility of such terminology as the “rhetoric of torture” to describe so tangled a complex of relationships. At stake is the question of how rhetoric can be “placed” in relation to such violations of being, or whether it is also at the root; the splintering of worlds and selves calls into question the very possibility of rhetorical action in a world that so relies on the subjugation of others.
Following a curve from rhetorical “unmaking,” or destroying, to “making,” or repairing, I analyze a variety of verbal, visual, and digital texts, including legal documents (i.e., select Torture Memos), the Abu Ghraib image archives, and the Web sites of two humanitarian aid organizations. This textual and temporal breadth enables me to consider a range of audiences and rhetors, from attorneys in the Department of Justice to activists for Amnesty International, as well as the role particular media play in the production and dissemination of texts.
While rhetorical studies is central to the framework, an attention to how temporalities structure “making” and “unmaking” highlights rhetoric’s reparative possibilities. To that end, I approach the relation between torture and rhetoric also through a temporal lens, identifying aspects of torture’s temporal entanglements in order to better conceive of how rhetoric and torture are imbricated with one another. Temporality acts as a productive third term for triangulating rhetoric-torture relationships because temporal concerns figure so frequently in both justifications for and practices of torture. Interrogational torture, for example, achieves a kind of rhetorical efficacy due to its reliance on such kairotic scenarios as the “ticking time bomb.” From the horrifying call and response of torture-heavy interrogation, to the pre-interrogation “softening up” period, to the prolonged emergency state, to the temporal confusion embedded in enhanced interrogational techniques, the process of torture is imbued with a morbid attention to timeliness. And, as these brief examples suggest, rhetoric is one of the means through which this tortured time plays out.
Chapter 1: Introduction
The introduction argues for the torture issue’s persistent timeliness, its ongoing “present-ness,” despite what might seem like a chronological remove from the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal and release of the Torture Memos in 2004 and 2009.
Chapter 2: Rhetoric’s New Devices
This chapter propose a reconceptualization of the relationship of rhetoric to violence. I bring in rhetorical theory to promote a richer conception of rhetoric beyond specific “rhetorical devices.”
Chapter 3: Torture-Memo Rhetoric and the Circumference of Torture
Chapter 3 critiques the bureaucratic and militaristic terms through which the authors of select Torture Memos rhetorically frame interrogational torture, arguing that interrogation is not simply an invitation to speak, despite the emphasis often placed on information-retrieval.
Chapter 4: Kairos, Imminence, and the Interruption
Specifically in constructions of “emergency” and “imminence,” kairos (the Greek term for “timeliness”) becomes an important feature of arguments in favor of enhanced interrogation techniques, as well as a key justification for the expansion of executive powers.
Chapter 5: Prisoner-Time and Time that Unmakes the World
Building on the contention that extreme pain “unmakes” the world, I draw on medical research, philosophy, and victim testimonies to argue that torture’s temporal disruption violates not only victims’ relation to their own bodies and immediate surround but violates also their experience of themselves as part of the world.
Chapter 6: Mending and Making Right
Chapter 6 shifts to consider the ways rhetoric repairs or “makes” the world in the midst of torture and other human rights violations. I theorize the life cycle of the Abu Ghraib scandal through notions of poiesis to identify opportunities for “mending,” or making right, even amidst ongoing violence.
Chapter 7: Making Time: Chronos and Kairos in Digital Advocacy
This chapter builds on Chapter 6 to investigate forms of “mending,” particularly in digital advocacy texts designed to promote awareness of, and hopefully alleviate, human rights abuses. Case studies include Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Chapter 8: Conclusion
I highlight possibilities for continued study on how rhetoric and kairos create opportunities for ethical intervention amidst pervasive structures of violence. Such an attention to timeliness in rhetorical action emphasizes the responsibilities of rhetoric as a generative, inventional, and human-centered approach to being in the world.