Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

British Torture in the 'War on Terror'

Blakeley, Ruth, Raphael, Sam (2016) British Torture in the 'War on Terror'. European Journal of International Relations, . pp. 1-24. ISSN 1354-0661. E-ISSN 1460-3713. (doi:10.1177/1354066116653455) (KAR id:55644)


Despite longstanding allegations of UK involvement in prisoner abuse during counterterrorism operations as part of the US-led ‘war on terror’, a consistent narrative emanating from British government officials is that Britain neither uses, condones nor facilitates torture or other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment. We argue that such denials are untenable. We have established beyond reasonable doubt that Britain has been deeply involved in post-9/11 prisoner abuse, and we can now provide the most detailed account to date of the depth of this involvement. We argue that it is possible to identify a peculiarly British approach to torture in the ‘war on terror’, which is particularly well-suited to sustaining a narrative of denial. To explain the nature of UK involvement, we argue that it can be best understood within the context of how law and sovereign power have come to operate during the ‘war on terror’. We turn here to the work of Judith Butler, and explore the role of Britain as a ‘petty sovereign’, operating under the state of exception established by the US Executive. UK authorities have not themselves suspended the rule of law so overtly, and indeed have repeatedly insisted on their commitment to it. They have nevertheless been able to construct a rhetorical, legal and policy ‘scaffold’ that has enabled them to demonstrate at least procedural adherence to human rights norms, while at the same time allowing UK officials to acquiesce in the arbitrary exercise of sovereignty over individuals who are denied any access to appropriate representation or redress in compliance with the rule of law.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/1354066116653455
Projects: The Globalisation of Rendition and Secret Detention
Uncontrolled keywords: torture, prisoner abuse, war on terror, sovereignty
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (
Depositing User: Ruth Blakeley
Date Deposited: 17 Jun 2016 06:22 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 18:19 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.