With the release on Dec. 3, 2014 of the so-called “Torture Report” by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, many questions have arisen about how the CIA treats detainees in its secret prisons. The 6,700-page report is an indictment of the CIA in many respects, faulting the agency for utilizing brutal interrogation techniques as well as misleading Congress and the White House about their effectiveness, which the CIA denies. The controversy about human rights abuses and CIA oversight is ongoing.

As we grapple with fallout from the report, reading through books that touch on its topics will guide us through the history of detainment and torture, help us understand strategies used in the War on Terror, and give us access to different perspectives.

Take a look at the "Understanding the Torture Report" exhibit on the Library's first floor, at the bottom of the staircase in the Niederhoffer Lounge.

Recommended reading & watching

Skip to:


The report

PDF, 500+ pages. By the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. (2014). This is the executive summary of the "Torture Report." Also cataloged in CUNY+

The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World
By Scarry, E. (1987). Stacks (BJ1409 .S35 1987)
Part philosophical meditation, part cultural critique, this work explores the nature of physical suffering. Elaine Scarry bases her study on a wide range of sources: literature and art, medical case histories, documents on torture compiled by Amnesty International, legal transcripts of personal injury trials, and military and strategic writings by such figures as Clausewitz, Churchill, Liddell Hart, and Henry Kissinger. Scarry begins with the fact of pain's inexpressibility. Not only is physical pain difficult to describe in words, it also actively destroys language, reducing sufferers in the most extreme cases to an inarticulate state of cries and moans. Scarry goes on to analyse the political ramifications of deliberately inflicted pain, specifically in the cases of warfare and torture, and she demonstrates how political regimes use the power of physical pain to attack and break down the sufferer's sense of self. Finally she turns to examples of artistic and cultural activity; actions achieved in the face of pain and difficulty.—Publisher's description 

The History of Torture
By Innes, B. (1998). Reference (HV8593 .I55 1998)
However repugnant the practice of torture seems to us today, it was legal for at least 3,000 years, and formed a part of most legal codes in Europe and the Far East. This book tells the history of torture from its origins to the present day. —Publisher’s description

The History of Torture
By Mannix, D. (2003). Stacks (HV8593 .M36 2003) 
Covers changes in torture practices, and the theories and techniques of torturers from pre-history to the modern era.—Torture subject guide

Is Torture Ever Justified?
By Head, T. (2005). Stacks (HV8593 .I75 2005)
Contains brief essays that present contrasting arguments on topics such as whether the United States military should obey the Geneva Conventions, or whether torture is justifiable.—Torture subject guide

Torture: A Collection
By Levinson, S. (2004). Stacks (HV8593 .T662 2004) 
While the legal prohibition on torture is among the most absolute—its status is akin to slavery and genocide in international law—many of the prominent lawyers, philosophers, political scientists and other thinkers contributing to this provocative yet sober collection acknowledge that torture can be an acceptable option in an extreme situation, such as the interrogation of a captured terrorist who has knowledge of a "ticking bomb." Authors grapple with whether the moral legitimacy of torture in extreme cases should receive legal sanction, or whether a disjunction between law and morality is preferable. —Publishers Weekly

Understanding Torture: Law, Violence, and Political Identity
By Parry, J. (2010). Stacks (K5304 .P37 2010). Also available as an ebook
Prohibiting torture will not end it. In Understanding Torture, John T. Parry explains that torture is already a normal part of the state coercive apparatus. Torture is about dominating the victim for a variety of purposes, including public order; control of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; and—critically—domination for the sake of domination. Seen in this way, Abu Ghraib sits on a continuum with contemporary police violence in U.S. cities; violent repression of racial minorities throughout U.S. history; and the exercise of power in a variety of political, social, and interpersonal contacts.—Publisher's description

About human rights

Confronting Evils: Terrorism, Torture, Genocide
By Card, C. (2010). Stacks (BJ1401 .C293 2010). Also available as an ebook
In this contribution to philosophical ethics, Claudia Card redefines evil as a secular concept and focusing on the inexcusability—rather than the culpability—of atrocities. Card examines the tension between responding to evils and preserving humanitarian values. This stimulating and often provocative book contends that understanding the evils in terrorism, torture and genocide enables us to recognize similar evils in everyday life: daily life under oppressive regimes and in racist environments; violence against women, including in the home; violence and executions in prisons; hate crimes; and violence against animals.—Publisher's description 

Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees
By Brody, R. (Human Rights Watch). (2011). Stacks (HV8599 .U6 B76 2011). Also available as an ebook
This report combines past Human Rights Watch reporting with more recently available information, analyzing this information in the context of US and international law. The report concludes that considerable evidence exists to warrant criminal investigations against four senior US officials: former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. Human Rights Watch calls for criminal investigations into their roles, and those of lawyers involved in the Justice Department memos authorizing unlawful treatment of detainees.—Human Rights Watch description

Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention
By Mariner, J. & Sifton, J. (Human Rights Watch). (2007). Available as an online report (PDF)
This 50-page report contains a detailed description of a secret CIA prison from a Palestinian former detainee who was released from custody. The report provides the most comprehensive account to date of life in a secret CIA prison, as well as information regarding 38 possible detainees. The report explains that these prisoners’ treatment by the CIA constitutes enforced disappearance, a practice that is absolutely prohibited under international law. —Human Rights Watch

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
2008. Media Reserve (DVD-724) 
Interviews with perpetrators, witnesses, and victims examining the abuses that occurred in the fall of 2003 at the notorious Iraqi prison. Probes the psychology of how typical American men and women came to commit these atrocious acts. —Catalog description

This Side of Silence Torture, Human Rights, and the Recognition of Cruelty
By Kelly, T. (2012). Stacks (HV8599 .G8 K45 2012). Also available as an ebook
This Side of Silence approaches the problem of torture in an unconventional and illuminating way. Human rights scholars and students will relish its clarity and insightfulness. As for human rights campaigners, they will find in it a warning about the inherent limitations of the legal process and thus an invitation to think more deeply and imaginatively about when and how to use legal means in order to oppose the blight of torture and, indeed, other injustices too.—Human Rights Quarterly

Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is It Ever OK?: A Human Rights Perspective
By Roth, K., Worden, Minky (eds). (2005). Stacks (HV8593 .T6623 2005)
A collection of essays that examine state-sponsored torture in the context of international law. Essay covers topics ranging from the history of torture, torture and terrorism, and torture in Latin America.—Torture subject guide

About the American torture debate

By Shiekh, I. (2011). Available as an ebook 
Richly told and uniquely heartrending, this book collects personal narratives of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Egypt, India, and Palestine who were racially profiled, detained indefinitely, and mistreated following the September 11 attacks. From descriptions of physical abuse at the hands of American prison employees to a harrowing account of extraordinary rendition and torture in Egypt, these powerful stories will inspire both empathy and outrage. Exploring themes of globalization and ethnic tension in the context of the global war on terror, Irum Shiekh here provides a space for former detainees to tell their stories and reveal the human cost of suspending civil liberties after a wartime emergency.—Catalog description
By Bassiouni, M. (2010). Stacks (HV8599 .U6 B37 2010)
Covers the prohibition of torture under international and United States law; interrogation techniques; the torture-enabling policy and its trickle-down effects; the practice of "extraordinary rendition" and the use of "black sites" by the CIA; responsibility: political, legal, and ethical considerations; and the Obama administration's actions January 2009-April 2010. —Table of contents
By Phillips, J. (2010). Stacks (HV8599 .U6 P56 2010)
Recounts the dark journey of a tank battalion as its focus switched from conventional military duties to guerilla warfare and prisoner detention. Author Joshua E. S. Phillips tells a story of ordinary soldiers, ill trained for the responsibilities foisted upon them, who descended into a cycle of degradation that led to the abuse of detainees. The book illustrates that the damaging legacy of torture is borne not only by the detainees, but also by American soldiers and the country to which they have returned.—Publisher's description
A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror
By McCoy, A. (2006). Stacks (HV8599 .U6 M33 2006)
In this revelatory account of the CIA's secret fifty-years effort to develop new forms of torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy uncovers the deep, disturbing roots of recent scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Far from aberrations, as the White House has claimed. A Question of Torture shows that these abuses are the product of a long-standing covert program of interrogation.—Publisher's description
Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies
By Khalili, L. (2013). Stacks (U241 .K43 2013). Also available as an ebook
Winner of the 2013 Susan Strange Book Prize. Winner of the 2013 IPS Section Book Award, sponsored by the ISA International Political Sociology Section. Khalili investigates the two major liberal counterinsurgencies of our day: Israeli occupation of Palestine and the U.S. War on Terror. In rich detail, the book investigates Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, CIA black sites, the Khiam Prison, and Gaza, among others, and links them to a history of colonial counterinsurgencies. Ultimately, Khalili confirms that as tactics of counterinsurgency have been rendered more "humane," they have also increasingly encouraged policymakers to willingly choose to wage wars.—Publisher’s description
Terror Detentions and the Rule of Law: US & UK Perspectives
By Wagstaff, R. (2014). Stacks (K5437 .W34 2014)
Dr. Robert H. Wagstaff documents President George W. Bush's and Prime Minister Tony Blair's responses to 9/11, alleging that they failed to protect the human rights of individuals suspected of terrorist activity. New legal paradigms for addressing terrorism are shown to be normatively invalid, illegal, unconstitutional, counter-productive, and in conflict with the Rule of Law. —Publisher’s description
Torture and Impunity
By McCoy, A. (2012). Stacks (HV8599 .U6 M34 2012). Also available as an ebook
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.—Publisher’s description
The Torture Debate in America
By Greenberg, K. (ed). (2006). Stacks (JC599 .U5 T665 2006)
Covers arguments from legislators, human rights advocates, and others who are for or against the use of torture in the War on Terror.—Torture subject guide

About the CIA

America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East
By Wilford, H. (2013). Stacks (DS63.2 .U5 W49 2013) 
From the 9/11 attacks to waterboarding to drone strikes, relations between the United States and the Middle East seem caught in a downward spiral. And all too often, the Central Intelligence Agency has made the situation worse. But this crisis was not a historical inevitability—far from it. Indeed, the earliest generation of CIA operatives was actually the region's staunchest western ally. In America's Great Game, celebrated intelligence historian Hugh Wilford reveals the surprising history of the CIA's pro-Arab operations in the 1940s and 50s by tracing the work of the agency's three most influential-and colorful-officers in the Middle East.—Catalog description

By Mahle, M. (2004). Available as an ebook 
A former clandestine agent specializing in the Middle East, Mahle begins with September 11th, but the bulk of her work recounts the CIA's involvement in such low watermarks of American intelligence as the Iran-Contra and the Ames affairs, and what she says have been their the devastating internal consequences. This is not just a memoir; Mahle joined the agency in 1988, and she pings back and forth in time, covering events and periods with which she was not directly involved. She decries what she characterizes as indiscriminate Congressional investigations, as well as political pressures to tailor conclusions to the biases of superiors. Both have led, she says, to demoralization and to a serious reduction in the CIA's overall capabilities. —Publishers Weekly
From Open Society Foundations. (2013). Stacks (KF9635 .G56 2013)
This report is the most comprehensive account yet assembled of the human rights abuses associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations. It details for the first time the number of known victims, and lists the foreign governments that participated in these operations. It shows that responsibility for the abuses lies not only with the United States but with dozens of foreign governments that were complicit. More than 10 years after the 2001 attacks, this report makes it unequivocally clear that the time has come for the United States and its partners to definitively repudiate these illegal practices and secure accountability for the associated human rights abuses.—Catalog description
By Weiner, T. (2007). Stacks (JK468 .I6 W44 2007) 
Winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Here is the hidden history of the CIA: why 11 presidents and three generations of CIA officers have been unable to understand the world; why nearly every CIA director has left the agency in worse shape than he found it; and how these failures have profoundly jeopardized our national security. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Weiner offers the first definitive history of the CIA, based on more than 50,000 documents, primarily from the archives of the CIA itself, and hundreds of interviews with CIA veterans, including ten Directors of Central Intelligence.—Publisher description.
By Mudd, P. (2013). Available as an ebook
Philip Mudd served as Deputy Director of the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA and later as Deputy Director of the National Security Branch at the FBI. Takedown sheds light on the inner workings of the intelligence community during the global counterterror campaign. As a participant in and a witness to key strategic initiatives—including the hunt for Osama bin Laden and efforts to displace the Taliban—Mudd offers an insider's perspective on the relationships between the White House, the State Department, and national security agencies before and after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Through telling vignettes, Mudd reveals how intelligence analysts understood and evaluated potential dangers and communicated them to political leaders.—Publisher’s description
2013. Media Reserve (DVD-1282)
A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.—Catalog description

Research resources

Through the Library, you have access to a great deal of articles, journals, newspapers, encyclopedias, streaming films, and more. Here are a few that may be helpful in following and understanding the Torture Report. You can access these from the Library homepage.

Torture subject guideWritten by Profs. Karen Okamoto and Ellen Belcher, librarians here at John Jay, to guide your research on the topic of torture. Includes a special section on the CIA “Torture Report.” 

The New York TimesProviding up-to-date and comprehensive coverage of this topic. You can sign up for a free digital account through CUNY for unlimited article views and the smartphone app.

Opposing Viewpoints in ContextRead through many perspectives on certain controversial topics, including torture. The viewpoints cite primary sources and link to other online resources. Library database.

Criminal Justice AbstractsScholarly articles and annotations of books and book chapters in criminal justice from 1968 to the present. Library database.

CQ Researcher Plus ArchiveExplores a single hot issue in the news in depth each week. Look for these reports: Closing Guantánamo (2009/2011), Torture Debate (2007), Torture (2003), and Treatment of Detainees (2006). Library database.

PsycInfoMuch of the news reports surrounding the Torture Report mention that the CIA hired psychologists to devise means of interrogation. Read more about what published psychologists say about torture and interrogation at our go-to resource for psychology information. Library database.

Published International Literature On Traumatic Stress (PILOTS): Covers articles related to traumatic stress and other mental-health conditions resulting from traumatic events, including torture. Library database.

Compiled by Robin Davis with help from Ellen Belcher and Karen Okamoto