Legitimising Evil:Media Contribution to Leniency Towards Using Physical and Psychological Violence as a Means of Intelligence Gathering in US

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Yi-Lun Tsai


Since 2001, the attacks by terrorists on the World Trade Centre on 11th September, and the War on Terrorism brought to discussion the question of whether harsh interrogation techniques that may amount to torture under the definition of international law could be legitimately used as a means of information gathering in order to prevent future attacks. In April 2004, a number of photographs depicting serious abuses being inflicted on prisoners under US custody at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq became known to the public, arousing serious concerns towards US detention and interrogation policies in Iraq. Despite the shocking images of abuse, there remained significant level of tolerance among US public towards the use of physical and psychological violence as a means of intelligence gathering.In order to understand such level of tolerance among the US public towards the use of violence as a means of intelligence gathering, this thesis examined how the treatments towards detainees under US custody have been presented by the US news media. Applying the theoretical framework of Administrative Evil, this project demonstrated that, through facilitating the discursive conditions leading to the process of moral inversion where acts of evil become convincingly redefined as morally tolerable and even justified, the US news media have been unable to provide effective and sustained criticisms towards US government policies despite claims of increased media independence as a result of technological advancement. More importantly, by supporting the discursive conditions of substitution of moral responsibilities with technical, or instrumental, responsibilities, consequentialist moral reasoning, and the dehumanisation of victims, the US news media supported a discourse that encouraged sympathy and even acceptance among US public opinion towards coercive interrogation techniques, some of which would amount to torture under international humanitarian standards. Examining the failures of US news media, the result of this thesis prompts us to critically review the role of the news media under the context of war. More significantly, the result of this thesis also demonstrated the failure of moral safeguards within modern liberal democratic societies and the need for a standard of morality based upon uncompromising responsibility to the others as fellow human beings.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Piers Robinson (Supervisor)
  • Peter Humphreys (Supervisor)
Award date1 Aug 2012