The 2016 presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump reignited the debate of the previous decade about the status of waterboarding as a licit or illicit interrogative technique. However, historical evidence proves that waterboarding has been considered a severe form of torture for over 600 years. In the lecture, Cox will reflect upon how and why waterboarding was ‘downgraded’ by the Bush administration between 2001 and 2008, how the medieval view of waterboarding as a severe torture technique informs contemporary views regarding the legal and ethical permissibility of waterboarding as a means of intelligence gathering, and the dangers that ‘torture creep’ poses to civil society. Situating waterboarding within a broader historical context highlights the ways in which International Relations scholarship can expand its canon of sources, to think how pre-modern evidence can reveal the existence of societal attitudes and norms that have persisted or perished in the modern day. Addressing why some norms have survived while others have been rejected is fundamental to a deeper understanding of our own assumptions and behaviors.

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