The Afterlives of Torture: Executive Power versus International Law in the Age of Trump

Trump and the Constitution Series

event poster
Wed, 03/29/2017 - 4:30pm
Aaron Burr Hall, Room 219
Event Category: 
Co-sponsored Event

Donald Trump ran for president and won on a platform that included the pledge to bring back waterboarding and other torture techniques. Within days of taking office, he signed executive orders that would indicate his intention to make good on that pledge. The question of whether the United States could or should resurrect a torture policy has become, again, a topic of fierce debate. In this talk, I will engage these contemporary developments and debates by exploring how the post-9/11 torture program instituted by the Bush administration continues to haunt national politics and international relations, despite that the program was cancelled by President Obama. I use the concept of “afterlives” to consider three sets of issues: First, how the secrecy that continues to shroud the US record on torture serves to fuel disputes about whether torture “works”; second, how the lack of accountability for those officials responsible for torture has reinforced confusion about US obligations under international law; and third, how assertions about executive power and prerogatives by the two previous administrations have paved the way for President Trump to pursue his goal of canceling the cancellation of torture.


This talk is organized by Professor Max D. Weiss, Associate Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, and supported by the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, and the Princeton Program in Law and Public Affairs, as part of the "Trump and the Constitution" series.

Lisa Hajjar
University of California, Santa Barbara

Lisa Hajjar is a professor of sociology at the University of California – Santa Barbara, with courtesy appointments in Global and International Studies, and Middle East Studies. She has an MA in Arab Studies with a concentration in International Affairs from Georgetown University (1986) and a PhD in Sociology from The American University (1995). She held a distinguished visiting appointment as the Edward Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut in 2014 – 2015, and served as the director of the Alwaleed Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at AUB in 2015 – 2016. Hajjar’s publications include Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (University of California Press, 2005) and Torture: A Sociology of Violence and Human Rights (Routledge 2013). She is currently working on a book tentatively titled The War in Court: The Legal Campaign against US Torture in the “War on Terror.” Her work focuses mainly on issues relating to law and conflict, military courts and occupations, human rights and international law, and torture and targeted killing.