Speaking about Torture

Speaking about Torture

Julie A. Carlson
Elisabeth Weber
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Speaking about Torture
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays is the first book to take up the urgent issue of torture from the array of approaches offered by the arts and humanities. In the post-9/11 era, where we are once again compelled to entertain debates about the legality of torture, this volume speaks about the practice in an effort to challenge the surprisingly widespread acceptance of state-sanctioned torture among Americans, including academics and the media-entertainment complex. Speaking about Torture also claims that the concepts and techniques practiced in the humanities have a special contribution to make to this debate, going beyond what is usually deemed a matter of policy for experts in government and the social sciences. It contends that the way one speaks about torture-including that one speaks about it-is key to comprehending, legislating, and eradicating torture. That is, we cannot discuss torture without taking into account the assaults on truth, memory, subjectivity, and language that the humanities theorize and that the experience of torture perpetuates. Such accounts are crucial to framing the silencing and demonizing that accompany the practice and representation of torture. Written by scholars in literary analysis, philosophy, history, film and media studies, musicology, and art history working in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, the essays in this volume speak from a conviction that torture does not work to elicit truth, secure justice, or maintain security. They engage in various ways with the limits that torture imposes on language, on subjects and community, and on governmental officials, while also confronting the complicity of artists and humanists in torture through their silence, forms of silencing, and classic means of representation. Acknowledging this history is central to the volume's advocacy of speaking about torture through the forms of witness offered and summoned by the humanities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4881-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. For the Humanities
    (pp. 1-16)
    Julie A. Carlson and Elisabeth Weber

    In his introduction to the collectionPoems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, published in 2007 by American and British lawyers who representpro bonodetainees of the camp, Marc Falkoff makes an observation, the implications of which underlie the impulse for this volume to speak about torture from the perspective of the humanities. Noting that the collection does not offer a “complete portrait of the poetry composed at Guantánamo, largely because many of the detainees’ poems were destroyed or confiscated before they could be shared with the authors’ lawyers,” Falkoff lists as a second inhibiting factor the Pentagon’s refusal to...

  5. Part One America Tortures
    • CHAPTER 1 An Assault on Truth: A Chronology of Torture, Deception, and Denial
      (pp. 19-36)
      Lisa Hajjar

      “Actionable intelligence” is a euphemism for information that has use-value for the protection of national security interests. At first glance,actionable intelligenceseems to lack one key characteristic of a euphemism: its elaborated meaning does not refer to something disagreeable or offensive, because gathering information to ensure public safety is a legitimate government function. But the means of eliciting intelligence (actionable or other) is not legitimately unlimited, and this phrase’s disagreeable characteristics become apparent in the “war on terror” lexicon, where it has been coupled with the torture and abuse of prisoners, the abuse euphemized as “enhanced interrogation methods.”


    • CHAPTER 2 In the Minotaur’s Labyrinth: Psychological Torture, Public Forgetting, and Contested History
      (pp. 37-58)
      Alfred W. McCoy

      Like Chile after General Pinochet or the Philippines after Ferdinand Marcos, the United States after George W. Bush is trapped in the painful politics of impunity. Despite dozens of official inquiries in the years since the Abu Ghraib photos first exposed abuse in April 2004, the torture scandal has continued to spread like a virus, infecting all who touch it. By embracing a specific methodology of torture, covertly developed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over decades and graphically revealed in those Iraqi prison photos, Washington has condemned itself to an endless succession of torture scandals. Through every sordid incident...

  6. Part Two Singularities of Witness
    • CHAPTER 3 Torture and Society
      (pp. 61-69)
      Reinhold Görling

      No living being is self-contained. We are all involved in a constant process of exchange with something or someone else: we breathe, we drink, we eat, we perceive with our senses and are perceived by the senses of others. Our emotions and thoughts are always already closely connected and interwoven with the world, with the things that impinge upon our senses, the institutions that shape our times and places, and above all with the thoughts and emotions of other living beings. In a very fundamental sense, life takes place in a space shared with other life. This interpersonal space does...

    • CHAPTER 4 What Nazi Crimes Against Humanity Can Tell Us about Torture Today
      (pp. 70-82)
      Susan Derwin

      The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a direct consequence of Nazi crimes against humanity.¹ As chairperson of the human rights commission that crafted the declaration, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations about its significance, stating, “[It] may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere. We hope its proclamation by the General Assembly will be an event comparable to the proclamation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the French people in 1789, the adoption of the Bill of Rights by the people of the United States, and the adoption...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Torture Was the Essence of National Socialism”: Reading Jean Améry Today
      (pp. 83-98)
      Elisabeth Weber

      Commenting on “a newspaper page with photos that show members of the South Vietnamese army torturing captured Vietcong rebels,” Jean Améry, the Austrian-born essayist and survivor of Nazi torture and death camps, wrote in 1966: “The admission of torture, the boldness—but is it still that?—of coming forward with such photos is explicable only if it is assumed that a revolt of public conscience is no longer to be feared. One could think that this conscience has accustomed itself to the practice of torture.”¹

      Alfred McCoy, eminent historian of the CIA and US torture, has compellingly argued that TV...

    • CHAPTER 6 “What Did the Corpse Want?” Torture in Poetry
      (pp. 99-108)
      Sinan Antoon

      When the torture at Abu Ghraib finally came to the attention of the global media in April of 2004, there was considerable outrage throughout the world. In the Arab world, where the images had a more devastating impact, hundreds of articles and essays were written in response to the scandal. In contrast to the “West,” the cultural milieu of the Arab world is one in which poetry still retains immense symbolic power and capital.¹ This was quite evident during the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the ongoing revolts in other Arab countries. The rallying chant for...

  7. Part Three Graphic Assaults, Sensory Overload
    • CHAPTER 7 Painting Against Torture
      (pp. 111-114)
      John Nava

      In the wake of 9/11, not only did America come together—the whole world stood with us. “Today,” it was repeated everywhere, “we are all Americans.” With breathtaking arrogance, exceeded only by stunning incompetence, the Bush/Cheney administration destroyed that unity in a matter of months.

      The disastrous failures of the administration have come at a tragic cost both at home and abroad. And the aftermath of its tactics have unfairly saddled the young people in these images with a shameful legacy. How could their parents’ generation have gone along with a trumped-up and irrelevant “preemptive war”? How could they have...

    • CHAPTER 8 Torture and Representation: The Art of Détournement
      (pp. 115-128)
      Abigail Solomon-Godeau

      Because various forms of torture have been routinely practiced throughout recorded history, there exists a substantial visual archive illustrating certain of its techniques. A sixteenth-century woodcut illustrating the practice of what is now called waterboarding is one such example, taken from a legal codex.

      Whether represented in the form of monumental sculpture celebrating victory and conquest (for example, the massive carvings from ancient Mesopotamia) or in the grisly martyrdoms of Christian art, the imagery of torture is part of the West’s visual history. Employed in the service of obtaining information or, as has been the case for much longer, to...

    • CHAPTER 9 Waterboarding: Political and Sacred Torture
      (pp. 129-139)
      Stephen F. Eisenman

      After the release of photographs of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in May 2003, a Gallup Poll indicated that 54 percent of Americans were “bothered a great deal” by the revelations. A year later the number had declined to 40 percent. In December 2005 an AP/IPSOS poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans agreed that torture was justified, at least on some occasions.¹ A May 2006 report by the UN High Commission for Human Rights about US torture at Guantánamo Bay was widely reported in newspapers, radio, and television, but produced no major outcries, public protests, or...

    • CHAPTER 10 Damnatio Memoriae
      (pp. 140-161)
      Hamid Dabashi

      The publication of Mehdi Karrubi’s letter to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani shook the already wobbly Islamic Republic to its foundations.¹ Nobody had ever dared to speak so openly about the most notorious public secret of the theocratic state—something that everyone knew and no one ever spoke of—that the Islamic (no less) Republic kidnaps, incarcerates, savagely beats up, rapes, tortures, murders, and then secretly buries in mass graves its young citizens, men and women; that the prisons of the Islamic Republic are evidently a cut from Pier Paolo Pasolini’sSalò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma(Salò, or the 120...

    • CHAPTER 11 Rituals of Hegemonic Masculinity: Cinema, Torture, and the Middle East
      (pp. 162-188)
      Viola Shafik

      In echoing Stuart Hall’s theory on popular culture,¹ Patrick Fuery wrote: “The cinematic body as discourse … operates as a site in which these distinctions and connections between force and power are played out.”² Indeed, the representation of the human body on film is not just a matter of narrative necessity or pictorial symbolism, but is rooted in the often contradictory and polarized realm of the social and political apparatus. Consequently, the cinematic depiction of torture or, in other words, the infliction of pain on people’s bodies, should be seen as tied to a struggle over political sovereignty. Through this...

    • CHAPTER 12 Music and Torture: The Stigmata of Sound and Sense
      (pp. 189-204)
      Peter Szendy

      It is a fact now proven by many testimonies: in US prisons, in Guantánamo, and in Iraq,music is used for torture.¹ Not only is the sound of the music used as accompaniment or as a sonic mask to cover the cries, but indeed it is tortureby means of music. This arguably novel practice must be denounced and cannot be denounced enough. But we must also think about it, we must analyze it, to attempt to understand that which was able to render possible this collusion or unheard-of conjunction: music and torture.

      “A cruelty consecrated by use” (una crudeltà...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Language of Feeling Made into a Weapon: Music as an Instrument of Torture
      (pp. 205-218)
      Christian Grüny

      Anyone who first hears about music being used as an instrument of torture will probably react ambivalently: on the one hand, he or she will be surprised that such a sophisticated and ubiquitous cultural practice can indeed be used for torturing people; on the other hand, this will immediately coincide with certain everyday experiences—isn’t the hip-hop that the neighbors’ son keeps blasting through the house or, alternatively, the awful dissonances of contemporary music a form of torture? This attitude is reflected in the reaction of a member of the American Musicological Society to a resolution of his organization condemning...

  8. Part Four Declassifying Writing
    • CHAPTER 14 Romantic Poet Legislators: An End of Torture
      (pp. 221-246)
      Julie A. Carlson

      Percy Bysshe Shelley’s concluding statement inA Defence of Poetry(1821), that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World,” affirms the centrality of the arts to social policy legislation for reasons that remain indispensable to the prohibition of torture in his day and ours.¹ Indeed, Shelley’s formulation and the reasoning that undergirds it are unsurpassed in positioning the arts and humanities at the heart of a just society and suggesting how they are and why they must remain so. At the core of his defense, as is well known, is the primacy of imagination understood in both its aesthetic...

    • CHAPTER 15 The Fine Details: Torture and the Social Order
      (pp. 247-272)
      Darieck Scott

      Samuel R. Delany makes the comment above in a discussion of how he—a prolific author whose work spans a number of genres, including literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, memoir, literary and cultural criticism, and erotica—had immense difficulty trying to publish his novelHogg, a pornographic work that depicts violence, sexual torture, and rape, including of children.Hoggwas completed in 1973; it first saw print in 1995, though it was, for periods of time during that twenty-two-year span, under consideration (and repeatedly rejected) by various publishers. Delany’s comment specifically concernsHogg’s content, which I intend to examine below,...

    • CHAPTER 16 Reasonable Torture, or the Sanctities
      (pp. 273-285)
      Colin Dayan

      A cure for all kinds of threats, reasonableness has long been a presupposition for extending enslavement, disability, torture. But this rationality is tied to figurative power; and at any moment, its metaphors can become more insistent and literal, operating, as Robert Cover famously wrote, “on a field of pain and death.”¹ What constitutes the reasonable when the traffic between the real and the fantastic, the acceptable and the horrific, becomes unfair to the dead and dangerous to the living? In our “secular” and “progressive” times, comprehensive forms of intimidation and punishment function as the backdrop to civil community. Nowhere is...

    • CHAPTER 17 John Yoo, the Torture Memos, and Ward Churchill: Exploring the Outer Limits of Academic Freedom
      (pp. 286-304)
      Richard Falk

      There seems to be something terribly wrong with a moral calculus that is currently operating within American universities and, more broadly, in American society. It so far insulates John Yoo from any process of formal accountability, while subjecting such notable and respected teacher/scholars as Ward Churchill, Norman Finkelstein, William Robinson, Joel Kovel, Nadia Abu El-Haj, and Joseph Massad to institutionally complicit harassment, sometimes culminating in a punitive outcome.¹ What is painfully apparent at this point is that the canons of “academic freedom” are vulnerable to encroachment, owing to political pressures mounted by politicians, media, influential alumni, ideologically driven administrators, and...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 305-360)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 361-366)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 367-374)