Violence Workers

Violence Workers: Police Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities

Martha K. Huggins
Mika Haritos-Fatouros
Philip G. Zimbardo
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 314
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnqmt
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  • Book Info
    Violence Workers
    Book Description:

    Of the twenty-three Brazilian policemen interviewed in depth for this landmark study, fourteen were direct perpetrators of torture and murder during the three decades that included the 1964-1985 military regime. These "violence workers" and the other group of "atrocity facilitators" who had not, or claimed they had not, participated directly in the violence, help answer questions that haunt today's world: Why and how are ordinary men transformed into state torturers and murderers? How do atrocity perpetrators explain and justify their violence? What is the impact of their murderous deeds—on them, on their victims, and on society? What memories of their atrocities do they admit and which become public history?

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92891-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables, Figures, and Photographs
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    Why do ordinary men torture and murder for the state? How do atrocity perpetrators explain and justify their violence? What is the result of their murderous deeds—for their victims, themselves, and their society? What memories of their atrocities do they admit, and which become public history?Violence Workersprovides a means to answer these and related questions about official violence and about the evil men whose acts remain buried in the secret recesses of their minds. Systematic interviews were conducted in 1993 with twenty-three Brazilian policemen, fourteen of whom were identified as official or semi-official torturers and murderers for...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Violent Lives
    (pp. 6-16)

    In the pages that follow we place human faces on the facts, statistics, and labels that others have used to paint one kind of picture of atrocity workers. This chapter looks specifically at four representative lives from among the fourteen who carried out unspeakable violence both for their government and parallel to the government’s own security services.

    To maintain the anonymity of all interviewees, those included in this book have been assigned a pseudonym that matches in no way their own first name. Although we do include the cities and states where some interviewees worked, we have tried to disguise...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Reconstructing Atrocity
    (pp. 17-28)

    Countries undergoing redemocratization from military dictatorships—as throughout Latin America in the last sixteen years—have to consider the aftereffects of the state-sponsored torture and executions that had been systematic government practices. In these transitional nations, forgetting as well as remembering has both personal and political dimensions. Those who have experienced an authoritarian past can deal with it personally in very diVerent ways. And how the evolving politics of revived democracies takes up painful memories influences whether the dictatorship’s torturers and murderers are simply ignored, receive blanket amnesty, make some general public acknowledgment of their acts, submit individually to a...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Locating Torturers and Murderers
    (pp. 29-44)

    Preparing for this project a year before our research began, we decided that the sample should include police who were known to have engaged in torture or murder. In the field it became immediately clear that this “wish list” would be exceedingly difficult to obtain. The potentially easiest group to identify, those listed by human rights groups and who had been denounced by their victims, were the most resistant of all to granting an interview. Having been exposed for their atrocities, with many still vehemently denying them just the same, these men did not want to participate in any project...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Deposing Atrocity and Managing Secrecy
    (pp. 45-62)

    Beginning with Armando’s testimony, we examine secrecy as a process that involved researchers and violence workers. Seeing secrecy as an interaction that includes a person who has something that another person wants, we illustrate how shared memory about atrocity was jointly constructed within an economy whose valuable currency was secrets. Recognizing that memory could not be created until the dynamic of silence that controls both researcher and interviewee was penetrated, we became part of a secrecy interaction that contained four elements: initial security measures, espionage, entrusted disclosures, and post hoc security precautions. The interviewees used security strategies throughout the interview...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Biography Intersects History
    (pp. 63-80)

    The authoritarian history of Brazil that the interviewed police helped to create and sustain began officially with the Brazilian military’s overthrow of President João Goulart on March 31, 1964—promoted and supported by the United States (Black 1977; Parker 1979) and bolstered over time by generous U.S. support for Brazil’s military and police (Huggins 1998). Even though some interviewees had entered police work several years before and others did not join their force until after military rule, most of the twenty-three interviewed police spent the better part of their careers in that cold war political system.

    In this chapter, we...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Personalistic Masculinity
    (pp. 81-100)

    The termstorturerandexecutionersuggest an extreme version of normal male aggressiveness, characterized by coldness, brute force, and pleasure in carrying out such activities. The labels “torturer” and “killer” are less likely to evoke an image of a professionally competent, formally trained, and “rational” person or of an empathetic, feeling man. In fact, these labels are so gender specific that they almost never conjure up a female image, although some research has suggested that women have been involved in torture complexes, albeit much less often than men. Cohen (1954), for example, argues that female guards in Nazi concentration camps...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Bureaucratizing Masculinity
    (pp. 101-117)

    This chapter examines the bureaucratically controlled Brazilian institutional functionary. He is represented primarily, although not exclusively, by the men who entered policing after Brazil’s military coup—all but one of the five men whom we examine in this chapter are part of the second generation among our violence workers. Yet the defining feature of this policeman is not when he joined the force but rather, and much more central to his masculinity construction, that the vast majority of his discourse about self and violence is phrased in bureaucratic organizational terms. For example, the institutional functionary masculinities were more likely than...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Blended Masculinity
    (pp. 118-135)

    This chapter introduces the policemen who manifested what we label “blended masculinity,” which features traits of both the institutional functionary and personalistic masculinities. However, unlike the other two types of police, the central structural characteristic of those with blended masculinity is their ease of movement between formal and informal social control systems: they routinely carried out atrocity on duty as working cops and off duty as paid rent-a-cops for businesses and as private vigilantes—whether as lone wolves or as part of a death squad. These interviewees maneuvered smoothly between institutional functionary and personalistic justifications for violence while mingling those...

  15. CAHPTER 9 Shaping Identities and Obedience: A Murderous Dynamic
    (pp. 136-160)

    There is horrifying evidence of the violence suffered by victims of security force repression in Brazil. Should we view the police who systematically carried out such atrocities as fundamentally abnormal? Or should we see them as, at least initially, just like anyone else? Perhaps atrocity perpetrators are shaped and molded, particularly as adults, into their violent roles and actions? Is atrocity, therefore, above all a product of certain kinds of ideological messages, organizational structures, and interpersonal interaction systems—all nurtured and legitimized by state action and inaction?

    Although it is tempting to see those who tortured and murdered in Brazil...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Secret and Insular Worlds of Serial Torturers and Executioners
    (pp. 161-191)

    This chapter looks at the structural and interactional factors that shaped relatively ordinary Brazilian police into serial atrocity perpetrators. We begin this exploration with a description of several Brazilian policemen’s entry into specialized police organizations, social control units, or informal death squads. Clearly, such career moves—which locked their members into an isolated, all-embracing, and operationally violent culture—began their transformation from ordinary working cops into repeat killers. Seeking the actual processes that explain the connection between membership in one of these agencies and the perpetration of regular and systematic atrocity, we examine violence work organization as well as the...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Moral Universes of Torturers and Murderers
    (pp. 192-209)

    Having examined the political, organizational, and social-psychological factors that nurtured atrocities in Brazil, this chapter investigates how violence workers explained, justified, and excused their own and others’ violence. Among our interviewees, we discovered four strategies for explaining and excusing atrocity: diffusing responsibility, blaming individuals—whether victims or perpetrators—citing a just cause, and asserting that professionalism had correctly guided their and other’s violence. From these static categories we could make out a more dynamic system of moral reckoning that defined some atrocity as acceptable, some as unacceptable but understandable, and some as totally unacceptable. Leaving behind their former status and...

  18. CHAPTER 12 Hung Out to Dry
    (pp. 210-231)

    Policemen all over the world are trained and employed to protect citizens, enforce laws, and serve decision makers. Particularly in authoritarian regimes they are primarily expected to protect and serve the powerful—that is, to do their dirty work, usually acts of violence in the name of an ideology that is supposed to better the nation. But what happens when this work of repression becomes too stressful for the policeman and his family? What consequences arise when occupational accomplishments and the positive self-definitions attached to them are challenged by changes in social and political conditions? How do police react when...

  19. CONCLUSION: The Alchemy of Torture nd Execution Transforming Ordinary Men into Violence Workers
    (pp. 232-268)

    If systematic torture and murder by men and women of their fellows represent one of the darkest sides of human nature, we hope that our research has made that darkness somewhat more visible. We began by focusing on torturers, trying to understand both their psyches and the ways they were shaped by their circumstances and contingencies. But it soon became apparent that we had to expand our analytical net to capture their comrades-in-arms who chose or were assigned to another branch of violence work, to be executioners. These two types of violence workers shared a common enemy—men, women, and...

  20. References
    (pp. 269-282)
  21. Index
    (pp. 283-293)