cover art.jpg

"trenchant... a definitive account of the way torture has been represented in narrative texts before and after 9/11, and of how these representations have reinforced and challenged policy. ... an engaging, rich and valuable book."

Journal of American Studies

“Alex Adams’ book could not be a more timely intervention into the practices of torture that so trouble [Naomi] Klein and many, many other political commentators, policy-makers, academics, and concerned people in all parts of the world. His examination of torture is exemplary… Adams provides a most comprehensive account of the ways that torture is framed in a range of popular culture texts, and for this we should be grateful to him. ... It is a most impressive achievement.”

Simon Philpott, in the Series Editors' Preface

Published by Routledge in 2016, as part of their Popular Culture and World Politics Series.

All proceeds from sales of this book are donated to Freedom From Torture, a UK-based charity that works with torture survivors.

Website Blurb:

Political Torture in Popular Culture argues that the literary, filmic, and popular cultural representation of political torture has been one of the defining dimensions of the torture debate that has taken place in the course of the post-9/11 global war on terrorism. The book argues that cultural representations provide a vital arena in which political meaning is generated, negotiated, and contested.

Adams explores whether liberal democracies can ever legitimately perpetrate torture, contrasting assertions that torture can function as a legitimate counterterrorism measure with human rights-based arguments that torture is never morally permissible. He examines the philosophical foundations of pro- and anti-torture positions, looking at their manifestations in a range of literary, filmic and popular cultural texts, and assesses the material effects of these representations. Literary novels, televisual texts, films, and critical theoretical discourse are all covered, focusing on the ways that aesthetic and textual strategies are mobilised to create specific political effects.


This book is the first sustained analysis of the torture debate and the role that cultural narratives and representations play within it. It will be of great use to scholars interested in the emerging canon of post-9/11 cultural texts about torture, as well as scholars and students working in politics, history, geography, human rights, international relations, and terrorism studies, literary studies, cultural studies, and film studies.




1: The Torture Debate




2: Camp, Colony, Counterterrorism





3: Another Indochina


The Centurions (1960)

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

The Little Soldier (1960/63) 

4: The Ticking Bomb and Beyond

24: Day Two (2002-3)

Rendition (2007)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

5: The War Prison

Guantánamo (2004)

The Road to Guantánamo (2006)

Standard Operating Procedure (2008)


Complicit (2013)


"This trenchant monograph by Alex Adams provides a definitive account of the way torture has been represented in narrative texts before and after 9/11, and of how these representations have reinforced and challenged policy. It takes a strong and clear position while simultaneously uncovering layers of nuance in the “torture debate” through astute readings of texts ranging from Gillo Pontecorvo’s anticolonial film Battle of Algiers (1966) to Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatization of the murder of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Political Torture in Popular Culture is also a valuable contribution to 9/11 studies in the way it historicizes that event, partly at least, by examining the “colonial inheritances” of the practice of torture by liberal democracies after 9/11. [...] Another strength of the book is its clear rhetorical and moral position, which Adams states early on and which gives the book an impassioned tone that is tempered by rigour and detail. [...] Not only does it move seamlessly through literary, film and television texts, but it also effectively combines high theory, a postcolonial perspective and an American studies perspective. Overall, this is an engaging, rich and valuable book."

Review by Arin Keeble, published in the Journal of American Studies, 2019.