Counter-terrorizing: The use of torture in Peru's counterterrorism campaign

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In this article I identify and evaluate numerous reasons why torture became common practice during the state counterterrorism campaign in Peru between 1980 and 2000, despite international and domestic legal obligations to protect human rights. I describe common structural conditions, organizational factors, and individual-level explanations often associated with torture practices. I then identify seven logics and motivations behind torture use in counterterrorism campaigns. I describe and analyze actual torture use in Peru using quantitative incident-level data, and I provide descriptive statistics concerning variation in the frequency and methods of torture. Finally, I examine specific incidents of torture to illustrate and assess the different logics and motivations for torture. I draw heavily from testimonies collected by Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I also rely on personal interviews carried out during fieldwork in the Junín and Ayacucho regions of Peru. I find that aggregate torture incidents generally coincide with political developments and shifts in violence levels and that the various state security forces used torture differently. A review of testimonies regarding specific incidents of torture suggests that multiple logics motivate state security forces, even for a single incident of torture, complicating academic efforts to formulate a parsimonious causal explanation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-276
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • counterterrorism
  • Peru
  • Sendero Luminoso
  • terrorism
  • torture

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