Indirect Violence and Legitimation: Torture, Surrogacy, and the U.S. War on Terror

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Societies Without Borders

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This paper contributes to the sociological study of legitimation, specifically focusing on the state legitimation of torture and other forms of violence that violate international normative standards. While sociologists have identified important discursive techniques of legitimation, this paper suggests that researchers should also look at state practices where concerns regarding legitimacy are “built in” to the very practice of certain forms of violence. Specifically, the paper focuses on surrogacy, through which powerful states may direct or benefit from the violence carried out by client states or other armed groups while at the same time attempting to appear separate from and blameless regarding any resulting human rights violations. The utility of this concept is demonstrated in case studies of torture in the U.S. “War on Terror,” examining the policy of extraordinary rendition and U.S. policy regarding Iraqi-state torture during its occupation of that nation. The case studies are developed from analyses of human rights reports, leaked military documents from U.S. soldiers in the Iraq War, and U.S. newspaper and television coverage.


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