Signature Lecture - Torturing Democracy: The Declassified U.S. Response to 9/11, and Its Resonance for Canada in Afghanistan

Thursday, September 9, 2010 - 7:00 PM
CIGI, 57 Erb Street West, Waterloo, Canada
Sep 9

Interested in CIGI’s LIVE WEBCAST of this event? RSVP here for a reminder notice and sign-on instructions.

Immediately following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the international community condemned the perpetrators, along with the al-Qaeda organization that trained them, which was then operating out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Much of the world even endorsed a U.S.-led coalition that attacked Taliban and al-Qaeda forces and installed a new government in Afghanistan. Soon, however, the Bush administration (in the phrase of CIA Middle East specialist Bruce Riedel) “took its eye off the ball,” invaded Iraq (which had no involvement with the 9/11 attacks), overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein, and found itself involved, virtually alone except for Great Britain, in its bloodiest and costliest war since the Vietnam conflict. In desperation (as well as secretly and illegally), the U.S. government at the highest levels authorized the use of torture on captured combatants—at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib Prison, the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere. By mid-2004, credible reports of the extreme techniques used by the interrogators began to surface, along with horrifying photographs taken of the victims by U.S. personnel doing the interrogations.

As the story of the torture of the captives in the so-called “war on terror” evolved, journalist and First Amendment advocate Thomas Blanton joined forces with award-winning film-maker Sherry Jones on a project that would culminate in the remarkable film, Torturing Democracy, winner of the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Award for investigative journalism on issues of human rights. In a CIGI Signature Lecture which will occur just two days before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive in Washington, DC, will discuss the extent to which torture was authorized by the top-ranking Bush administration officials, who should be held responsible, and how such violations of fundamental human rights might be avoided in future conflicts. He will illustrate his points with several brief excerpts from Torturing Democracy.

The entire film may be viewed online, along with many special features, including an interactive timeline constructed by Blanton’s Archive. See: (Note: portions of the film involve reenactments of torture techniques used by U.S. interrogators, as well as first-person recollections by victims of torture.)

Andrew Thompson, a human rights specialist from the Balsillie School of International Affairs will discuss the resonance between the U.S. behavior depicted in Torturing Democracy and the recent scandal in the Afghanistan war over Canada’s willingness to hand over captives to the Afghan authorities whom, it is alleged, were known to the Canadian authorities to torture their prisoners. Andrew Thompson’s new book on human rights, In Defense of Principles, will be available for purchase following the lecture.

- Introduction by James Blight of the Balsillie School
7:05pm-7:50pm - Thomas Blanton (director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University) will develop the main arguments of the film, discuss its impact and screen segments of "Torturing Democracy"
7:50pm-8:00pm - Human Rights specialist Andrew Thompson of the Balsillie School will comment on the implications of the film for the preservation of human rights during war and on Canada's position on these issues in regards to its role in the Afghanistan conflict
8:00pm-9:00pm - Janet Lang of the Balsillie School will moderate the audience Q&A

More about the Speakers:
Thomas Blanton
is the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, in Washington, DC.

James G. Blight is the CIGI Chair in Foreign Policy Development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo.

Janet M. Lang is a research professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

Andrew Thompson teaches in the Global Governance Program at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo.