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The Entrapments of Form$
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Catherine Toal

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780823269341

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823269341.001.0001

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American Cruelty

American Cruelty

(p.115) Chapter Five American Cruelty
The Entrapments of Form

Catherine Toal

Fordham University Press

The “torture memos” defending the treatment of detainees considered ineligible for due process only confirm that in jurisprudence, “cruelty,” despite its polemical power as an ordinary-language term, is considered less serious than torture. Colin Dayan locates the origin of the memos’ rhetorical maneuvers in the distortion of the Eighth Amendment provision against “cruel and unusual punishment” by the institution of slavery and by the subsequent perpetuation of slave-status for incarcerated felons. The chapter links the history of interpretation of the Eighth Amendment to the discussion of cruelty in American philosophy (in the work of Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, and Judith Butler), where it is variously defined as a failure of noticing, sympathy, love, or identification. The chapter traces the implications of the fact that diametrically opposed perspectives—the defense of torture and the critique of the war on terror—are implicated in an interpretative erasure of any specificity to cruelty.

Keywords:   Judith Butler, Eighth Amendment, Martha Nussbaum, Richard Rorty, torture memos, War on Terror

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