Tzvetan Todorov on Bush and Torture


Tzvetan Todorov on “intellectual torturers”:

The newly published documents do not disclose the very facts of torture, which were already well known by whomever wanted to know them. But they do reveal a great deal of information about how the torture sessions unfolded and how the agents involved perceived them.

What is most striking is the discovery of niggling little rules, outlined in CIA manuals and co-opted by the government’s legal executives. One would have thought that torture was the result of blunders or unintentional excesses committed on the spur of the moment. On the contrary, these memos make clear that torture was a tactic formulated in minute detail.

This is, I think, the perversity of the situation and my personal disappointment with the lack of substantial public outcry comes from precisely this – these policies were prescribed in such minute detail that it makes me wonder not only if we are approaching the forbidden issue of comparing these low-level automatons to Nazi functionaries (a certain professor did it and lost his tenured job), but also if our public conscience (if such still exists) was so thoroughly brainwashed in the last eight years that it would take a while for all to realize exactly what these torture memos reveal about our collective ability to violate the most accepted standards of human treatment when we are told that the victims are less than human.

The legal definition of torture implies the intentional infliction of severe suffering. Torturers are thus advised to deny such an intention. As a result, the goal of a facial slap is not to inflict physical pain, but to induce surprise and humiliation. The purpose of confinement in a box is not to disorient someone, but to give the detainee a feeling of discomfort. The torturer must always emphasize his “good faith,” “honest beliefs,” and the reasonable premise for them.

So euphemisms were systematically used: “enhanced techniques” for torture, “interrogation expert” for torturer. Leaving material imprints is contra-indicated. To that end, mental damage is preferable to physical injury. Any video recordings of these sessions, not surprisingly, would be destroyed afterwards.

I always agreed with that famous Socratic pronouncement that a corrupt society is clearly seen by the amount of lawyers and doctors that it requires – how it is that the so-called justice system produced such utterly horrific memos? Are we really talking about “perversion of the law” here or is it that the law is always capable of such things when it is so utterly divorced from any concept of justice?

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