The Shadow of Brainwashing: A Short History of Coercive Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror

27 Apr 2017
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Rebecca Lemov
Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

From the Cold War’s “coercive interrogation” system through the War on Terror’s “enhanced interrogation” regime, there has been a significant alteration in the subject on whom coercive interrogation techniques are practiced. The question is not so much about a continuity of technique–which there demonstrably is–but a discontinuity in the subjectivity that interrogators targeted and with which they worked. This talk argues that the interrogation subject in the twenty-first century (the subject of “enhanced interrogation”) is something different from the Cold War interrogation subject (that of “coercive interrogation”), although, as mentioned, the technical corpus of behavioral modification used to act on them is essentially the same.

In the Cold War, the goal was to “break” a human subject in order to rebuild him with a new ideological orientation, constituting a sort of feat of ideological engineering. Subjectivity was in this regard a substrate that could be “dialed up” or reduced so as to be worked with. It was targeted. By the early 21st century, subjectivity was no longer the focus of operations; rather, like a stage or an open space, it supported the extraction of “actionable intelligence” and the detainee was framed as a kind of data subject.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS

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