Calendar showing September 11. Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay under Pixabay Licence

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay under Pixabay Licence

Brave new world

24th November 2015

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How has the use of torture after 9/11 shaped attitudes to it in liberal democracies such as Australia?

This is just one of the questions a cross-disciplinary workshop hosted by the ANU Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) on 25 November plans to discuss. The workshop, Torture after 9/11: The Asia-Pacific context, brings together academics from across ANU and other Australian universities and is the brainchild of RegNet postdoctoral fellow Dr Cynthia Banham.

Dr Banham completed her PhD thesis in 2014 on ‘The Responses of Liberal Democracies to the Torture of Citizens,’ and her interest in how and why liberal democracies were willing to accept torture in the context of the War on Terror, despite their commitment to human rights principles, drove her to organise the workshop. The release of the landmark US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA torture in December 2014, was, she felt, a good chance to take stock of the long-lasting implications of post-9/11 torture.

“I think understandings did change around torture after 9/11,” Dr Banham says. “An opinion poll in the US conducted after the Senate report came out showed that 59 per cent of Americans actually think the CIA’s program of torture techniques was justified, so I was interested in a workshop that explored the long-term effects.”

Professor Stephen Toope, the current director the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, will be giving the keynote address, ‘Can international human rights law prevent torture?’. Professor Munk specialises in human rights, international law and international relations, and was a fact-finder on Canada’s commission of inquiry examining the rendition to Syria and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

Other speakers include academics from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Law, as well as from Monash University, Sydney University and the University of Western Australia, and the Association for the Prevention of Torture, a Geneva-based NGO. The workshop is supported by an ANU Research School of Asia Pacific grant and Professor Hilary Charlesworth’s ARC Laureate Fellowship.

Although the workshop will primarily focus on Australia’s region, attendees will be bringing a range of perspectives. Discussion topics will include Australia’s, Britain’s and Canada’s experiences in Afghanistan; the role of torture in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Turkey, Latin America, Kashmir and Bangladesh; and more-philosophical arguments about what torture says about the relationship between the individual and sovereign powers.

“It’s very cross-disciplinary, and that’s what I think the strength of a workshop like this is,” Dr Banham says. “You’ve got lawyers, political scientists, philosophers and anthropologists, and I think you need that breadth of expertise to come to grips with something as complicated as ‘why torture?’.

“I think that before 9/11, these things, even if they were going on, were never openly acknowledged and defended, and what’s changed is that happens now. You look at the debates and posturing in the lead-up to the next US presidential election, and it’s okay to say ‘I’ll just bring back the CIA’s torture techniques’. Whatever happened before 9/11, it was never okay for a prospective politician in a liberal democracy to think, ‘If I say this it’s going to get me elected’.”

Torture after 9/11: The Asia-Pacific context will be held on Wednesday 25 November, 9am-5pm. To register please email Cynthia Banham (

Tags: Torture, workshop

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet