Friday, May 07, 2004

From the Guardian


However much the American secretary for state may wish to discourage the use of the word "torture", there is no other word that can describe these acts. In torture and other extreme forms of abuse, the infliction of pain and shame does not necessarily aim at extracting information. Beatings, humiliating rites and verbal insults are often used to make prisoners describe acts or reveal names already known to the police or military. Often, the questions are of little practical value to the torturers and the regime. The redundant interrogations are frequently accompanied by the demand that prisoners sign a document, declaring that they have seen the errors of their ways. The apparent futility of these demands indicates the nature of the torturers' enterprise. They want to destroy the victim's sense of identity.

The evil of torture is not restricted to wanton violence inflicted on the body. Many types of extreme pain and physical suffering, whether in war, during acts of religious martyrdom, or simply as a result of poor health, are endured with dignity and patience. The evil of torture lies elsewhere: it denies its victim the minimum recognition offered by society and law and, in doing so, it destroys the respect people routinely expect from others. More importantly, torture aims to undermine the way the victim relates to his or her own self, and thus threatens to dissolve the mainsprings of an individual's personality. Torture is an embodied violation of another individual. The sexual nature of these acts shows that the torturers realise the centrality of sexuality for their victims' identity. The perpetrators in these photographs aim to destroy their victim's sense of self by inflicting and recording extreme sexual humiliation. As in Jean Améry's description of being tortured by the Nazis, sexual violation is so devastating not because of the physical agony suffered so much as by the realisation that the other people present are impervious to the victim. Torture destroys "trust in the world . . . Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world."