The Derision of Torture

by Ninotchka Rosca

The mockery with which neo-cons participate in the current US discourse on torture is not surprising: Limbaugh slapping himself gently and facetiously; Hannity offering to be waterboarded for charity; giggling theses as to what constitutes and does not torture…

Because that is what torture is – a derision. It mocks our commonly held value of physical sovereignty. Torture is often accompanied by jokes, laughter, obscenities from the torturers. Any torture survivor will tell you this. Hence, the unspeakable ridicule that was the essence of the Abu Ghraib pictures: human beings as walls of naked buttocks, as contemptuously crucified with electrodes while hooded. It is humanity’s disdain for its own frailty carried to an infinite degree.

Not to say that torture is not deadly business. The exactness of waterboarding’s calibration is supposed to prevent “accidental damage.” Unfortunately, one cannot calibrate human cruelty and thus deaths do happen. Torture is orgasmic to the torturer and what starts out as a “scientifically enhanced” interrogation becomes a feast of sadism. Remember the plastic wrapped corpse at Abu Ghraid?

Torture survivors can tell you how many “mild” open-slaps it will take to dislocate the jaw; how double “mild” open slaps over the ears can burst eardrums; how plucking the hair off one’s eyebrows and eyelashes causes intense pain; or merely, squeezing one’s fingers together in an ever-tightening handshake can bring a person to his/her knees; or how a standard cavity search for a female, done without latex gloves by male soldiers, can destroy her sense of physical inviolability for decades.

I wrote only one short story about detention and read it, five years after being released from Camp Crame, at a literary event in Hawaii. I thought that considering the amount of time that had passed, I could read it. Wrong. My voice broke in the middle of reading the story, so overwhelmed was I by a wave of helplessness, anger and pity for those who were maimed or did not survive detention. For years thereafter, I had nightmares as the anniversary of my arrest came about, the compound dreams of rage and helplessness petering out as the calendar neared my release date anniversary. That lasted for ten years. Occasionally, when something like Abu Ghraib happens, the dreams return – for a week, a month…

This is no indication of unusual sensitivity. I’ve seen men and women collapse into tears, ten years after the fact, when recounting their experience of torture. Even the children of those so battered by a political ill-wind disintegrate and/or commit suicide. Because this is the inescapable and indelible mark that torture leaves behind: the conclusion that there is no salvation from the evil that torturers and torture policies symbolize; the conviction, wrong as it may be, that in the end, we are all valueless, disposable and there is no meaning to human existence.

Those who think/treat torture as a joke merely contribute to and strengthen torture’s nihilist lessons. They add absolutely nothing of significance to the discourse and ultimately, characterize themselves as being themselves nothing of value.

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