FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Looking at Torture

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

We torture modernly in secret—in prisons, covert locations, other countries. At the same time our movies and television are full of violent images of mangling bodies and brutal interrogations. But the film and tv images belie reality and permanent damage. When James Bond was beaten mercilessly in the testicles he survived to soon woo his betrayer. We think we know what torture is like, but in fact we don’t look at it. The infamous Abu Ghraib photos were sanitized and often posed. The documentary tapes of actual torture and interrogation were destroyed or censored.

Former Vice President Cheney rejects the word ‘torture’ but extols ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ and sneers at shrinking from them. To him the end of security justifies violent means. President Obama opposes torture as unlawful and immoral and not useful he but has ordered torture photos suppressed for national security reasons. He says he must protect our troops against the anger and violence the photos might incite. Though on opposite sides about the use of torture, both leaders cite war as a justifying reason. For Cheney war licenses torture; for Obama war requires concealment of torture.

This is logical as war is the usual and radical rationalization of torture. In war’s shadow torture even seems restrained. I do not destroy you because I think you a danger, I just hurt you until you submit to my superior right to live, until you give me what I want from you.

The ticking bomb scenario popularized in the tv series “24” and rationalized legally by Alan Dershowitz argues that to save many you can, even should, torture a few. Basically this is the economy and danger of war. We destroy the enemy who wants to destroy us. It’s us or them. Torture exists in a dangerous present tense. It is poised in pain. The images are not of dead bodies (as in the  mass graves, heads, hair, fillings, and skin lamps of Nazi footage) but of breathing bodies on the edge of death or terrible mutilation or hurt. Bodily vulnerabilities have always fueled fantasy—branding, flaying, sexual harm. Literature and movies approach, evoke, explore, and give catharsis about our bodies’ frailties. They are part of our imaginative human repertoire and as familiar as our fears. Imaginatively torture is in our consciousness. It is explicit in religious images of hell, which like the movies are artistic, imagined. They are not real, involving specific living people.

Many people see the tortured Christ as an emblem of human suffering. He is whipped, beaten, mocked, degraded, punctured, speared and nailed to a cross. His torturers carry out orders as he remains noble and forgiving. His drama is called ‘the passion,’ meaning the suffering story he enacts, as in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. What distinguishes that film from Braveheart is not the thorns, but the character of Christ who really survives the movie torment of torture and death for believers.  Christians often divide over whether to emulate the non-violent submissive Christ who reveals the violence of others by suffering it, or a resurrected Christ who returns with punitive judgment. In Michelangelo’s Last Judgment  Christ has his right arm raised as if to smite rather than beckon to the reward for kindness to fellow men.

Torture invokes not only the sense of bodily pain and danger of death but large tropes about power. From spanking to eternal smiting the infliction of pain for a purpose triggers human fear and caution and debate.

Against movie histrionics and hysteria many professional interrogators argue that torture doesn’t work and instead foments war fury. That is why Obama wants the photographs hidden. People say that the US used to be known as decent to its prisoners of war. Many world citizens see us now as guilty of war crimes, violators of the Geneva Conventions, callously inured to our right to rule and dominate. The photographs document that charge.

Rumsfeld called the Abu Ghraib photos “radioactive” and deplored their publication. His labeling spun them as the danger, not the story they told. That story, the administration said, was of a few depraved people doing despicable acts, not our story. Cheney repeats the chant. But it is harder to spin razored and mutilated bodies than stories or fear. We should look at  torture. And we should confront the images that document its reality rather than hide the faces in fictions that they don’t exist. And we should expose as well the ugly sire of torture, war.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail