I develop a framework to account for torture, which I argue should be understood with reference to international relations. I show that torture is intended as a tool to ensure the security, stability and legitimacy of elites, often transnationally, but there is often a disjuncture between its intended and actual outcomes. Despite dominant claims that torture is used to defeat security threats, most torture is intended to deter political opposition and secure legitimacy for elites. I conclude that torture should be renounced, both on moral grounds, and because it is not necessary for the functions it is intended to serve.
* The author would like to thank Eric Herring, Stephen Blakeley, Bill Bowring, Rob Dover, Paul Higate, Richard Jackson, Kent Johnson, David Miller, Anna Stavrianakis, Doug Stokes, David Whyte, and two anonymous RIS referees for comments on an earlier draft of this article.