The University of Wisconsin Press

Politics / History / Human Rights

Torture and Impunity
The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation
Alfred W. McCoy

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

“A masterful account of an appalling national drift toward accepting torture as part of our culture and polity.”
—Alex Gibney, director, Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side

Many Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.

During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject’s resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America’s moral authority as a world leader.

Portrait of author Alfred W. McCoyAlfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin– Madison. His many books include Policing America’s Empire and A Question of Torture.


“With this book, the leading historian of U.S. torture practices has done a great service for academics and the general public by deepening his genealogical account of psychological torture from the Cold War to the present. This is familiar ground for McCoy's readers, but Torture and Impunity adds significantly to our understanding.”
Journal of American History

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Related Resouces

December 16, 2014 interview about CIA torture allegations with Alfred McCoy on Democracy Now!
Part 1
Part 2

September 21, 2012 interview with Alfred W. McCoy on Democracy Now!



Of Related Interest:
The cover of McCoy's book is an illustration of some hooded and bound prisoners held by the United States.Policing America’s Empire
The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State
Alfred W. McCoy

"In this stunning book, McCoy reveals how empire shapes the intertwined destinies of all involved in its creation. Written with deft strokes, this is an instant classic of historical writing."
—Lloyd Gardner, author of The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from the 1970s to the Present

2011 Winner of the George McT. Kahin Prize, the Association for Asian Studies

The cover of McCoy's book is an illustration of some hooded and bound prisoners held by the United States.

July 2012
LC: 2011043916 HV
298 pp.    6 x 9    13 b/w illus.

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Paper $29.95 a
ISBN 978-0-299-28854-9
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“A fascinating and disturbing book, providing the most authoritative account of torture yet available and conforming to the best traditions of scholarship.”
—Richard Falk, Princeton University

“This book gives the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about the use of torture by the United States intelligence service.”
—Jennifer Harbury, author of Truth, Torture, and the American Way

“McCoy, our finest thinker on the issue of torture, describes its legalization under Bush and the damage caused to morality, law, and our future by Obama's granting of impunity to the torturers. Readers will come away with the understanding that the United States' commitment to human rights was tested by 9/11—and it failed.”
—Michael Ratner, president emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights

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