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Becoming a torturer: Towards a global ergonomics of care

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2017

Abstract

How do people become torturers? And how do we stop that transformation? This article addresses these questions by calling on academics and practitioners to consider caring for – expressing sympathy, understanding, and working with – the figure of the “not-quite-yet” torturer. We begin by noting the globality of torture across space and regime type, and suggest that this globality indicates how torture is – very frequently – not the result of any decision or order. This is followed by a discussion of the “consciousness” of the torturer vis-à-vis (1) their paradoxical emotional scarring by their own actions, and (2) their frequent descriptions of having, indeed, never themselves “intended” to torture someone. Drawing on recent developments in the theory of consciousness, we then argue that this non-purposeful enaction of torture can be understood in terms of certain somatic markers that lead, in particular material-situational settings, to people slipping towards violence. Drawing on the theory of the emergence of violence put forward by Jonathan Luke Austin, we then sketch out more fully the process of becoming a torturer in terms of the situational and material dynamics that encourage these slippages, as well as a global circulatory system of violent knowledges through various sources that become activated in particular settings. We thus suggest that becoming a torturer is more a process of transition than of decision, before noting that this distinction is often lost in the cultural cycle of torture that emerges once torture has begun. Finally, we move to outlining the implications of this non-purposeful understanding of torture by arguing for a new preventive strategy based on the principles of ergonomics and modifying the training regimes of the most common professions from which torturers emerge (the military, the police, etc.) in order to make it harder to slip towards violence. We suggest, ultimately, that this strategy of prevention requires placing ourselves in the uncomfortable position of working to care for both the becoming-torturer and the torturers themselves, in order to help them both preserve their own humanity.

Type
Conditions in detention
Copyright
Copyright © icrc 2017 

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References

1 Liscano, Carlos, Truck of Fools, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, TN, 2004, p. 71Google Scholar.

2 Ibid., empasis added.

Ibid

3 See Améry, Jean, At the Mind's Limit, Shocken Books, New York, 1986 Google Scholar; Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985 Google Scholar.

4 See, inter alia, Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1958 Google Scholar; Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Shocken Books, New York, 2004 Google Scholar; Sironi, Francoise, Bourreaux et victimes, Odile Jacob, Paris, 1999 Google Scholar; Clegg, Stewart R., Courpasson, David and Phillips, Nelson, Power and Organizations, Sage, London, 2005 Google Scholar; Crelinsten, Ronald D., “The World of Torture”, Theoretical Crimonology, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2003 Google Scholar.

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6 As we will see below, drawing a distinction between purposefulness and intentionality is very important in discussions of political violence. While most human actions are in some sense intentional, many – including violence – are not necessarily purposeful.

7 See, inter alia, Austin, Jonathan Luke, “Torture and the Material-Semiotic Networks of Violence Across Borders”, International Political Sociology, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Austin, Jonathan Luke, Guarantees of Non-Recurrence and the Violence Prevention (VIPRE) Initiative, Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, Geneva, 2016 Google Scholar; Austin, Jonathan Luke, “We Have Never Been Civilized: Torture and the Materiality of World Political Binaries”, European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2017 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Austin, Jonathan Luke, Small Worlds of Violence: A Global Grammar for Torture, Graduate Institute Geneva, 2017 Google Scholar; Jonathan Luke Austin, “A Visual Ethnomethodology of Torture in Action: Boys in Tyres, Biopolitics, and Locally Ordered Violences”, available on request, 2017; Jonathan Luke Austin, “Hot Tea with Sugar and the Translation(s) of Torture”, in Trine Villumsen Berling et al. (eds), Translations of Security, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, forthcoming 2017; Jonathan Luke Austin and Anna Leander, “Visibility: Practices of Seeing and Overlooking”, in Christian Bueger and Alena Drieschova (eds.), Mapping International Practice: Concepts, Debates, and Borders of International Practice Theory, forthcoming 2018; Jonathan Luke Austin, “The Chair Sits on the Man: The Non-Human Perpetration of Violence”, in Susanne C. Knittel and Zachary J. Goldberg (eds), Routledge Handbook of Perpetrator Studies, Routledge, London, forthcoming 2018. See also: www.jonathanlukeaustin.com/small-worlds-of-violence and www.vipre.ch (all internet references were accessed in October 2016).

8 See Collins, Randall, Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007 Google Scholar.

9 For more information, see: Graduate Institute Center on Conflict Development and Peacebuilding, Films, Collective Memories and National History in Political Transitions, Conflict and Post-Conflict Contexts, available at: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/ccdp/ccdp-research/clusters-and-projects-1/films-collective-memories-and-na.html.

10 J. L. Austin, “Torture and the Material-Semiotic Networks of Violence Across Borders”, above note 7.

11 See ibid. and J. L. Austin, Small Worlds of Violence, above note 7.

ibid

12 See: www.vipre.ch.

13 On the globality of torture, see J. L. Austin, “Torture and the Material-Semiotic Networks of Violence across Borders”, above note 7.

14 See: ICRC, “What We Do for Detainees”, available at: www.icrc.org/en/document/what-we-do-detainees.

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16 For full details, see: the Ill-Treatment and Torture Data Collection Project website, available at: http://faculty.ucmerced.edu/cconrad2/Academic/ITT_Data_Collection.html.

17 Rick Noack, “Most Countries Are against Torture — but Most Have Also Been Accused of It”, Washington Post, 12 December 2014, available at: www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/12/12/most-countries-are-against-torture-but-most-have-also-been-accused-of-it/?utm_term=.d0aa68ea464f.

18 J. L. Austin, “Torture and the Material-Semiotic Networks of Violence Across Borders”, above note 7.

19 Sironi, Francoise and Branche, Raphael, “Torture and the Borders of Humanity”, International Social Science Journal, Vol. 54, No. 174, 2002, p. 539CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 J. L. Austin, “Torture and the Material-Semiotic Networks of Violence Across Borders”, above note 7, p. 3. See, for many additional examples, J. L. Austin, “We Have Never Been Civilized” and Small Worlds of Violence, both above note 7.

21 See Rejali, Darius, Torture and Democracy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007 Google Scholar; Rejali, Darius, “Modern Torture as a Civic Marker”, Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and, again, J. L. Austin, Small Worlds of Violence, above note 7.

22 The common view that torture is trained is largely espoused by critical scholars within history, anthropology and political science. These perspectives argue that several famous instances of people having been trained under particular programmes (typically run and funded by France or the United States) who then went on to torture in their respective theatres of operations are evidence of a deliberate attempt to distribute torture techniques across borders. The classic example here is the operation of the US Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. Graduates of the school from States located in the Southern Cone of Latin America went on to torture during the so-called Dirty Wars of the 1970s and 1980s. As Austin explains, however, there is little evidence of direct training to torture at this facility, and such training is largely assumed based on what came afterwards. There is evidence in this case and others of interrogation resistance training which involves mock torture later being used as a knowledge source for actual torture, but this is not the principle point made by advocates of this thesis. For the accounts of those who support this thesis, see Khalili, Laleh, Time in the Shadows, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2012 Google Scholar; Chomsky, Noam and Herman, Edward., The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Black Rose Press, Montreal, 1979 Google Scholar; and for the critique, see J. L. Austin, “We Have Never Been Civilized”, above note 7.

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27 Except in a broader philosophical sense which stresses the historical genealogy of the modern democratic State as maintaining aspects of a “sovereign” form of political rule under the guise of a more civilized form of order. See G. Agamben, above note 5; Debrix, Francois and Barder, Alexander D., Beyond Biopolitics, Routledge, London, 2012 Google Scholar.

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94 See John K. Tsukayama, “By Any Means Necessary”, unpublished PhD dissertation, St Andrews, 2014.

95 Ibid., p. 186.

Ibid

96 Ibid., p. 162.

Ibid

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Ibid

98 J. L. Austin, Small Worlds of Violence, above note 7.

99 Adam Chandler, “Eichmann's Best Man Lived and Died in Syria”, The Atlantic, 1 December 2014.

100 Mona Mahmood et al., “Revealed: Pentagon's Link to Iraqi Torture Centres”, The Guardian, 6 March 2013.

101 J. L. Austin, “Torture and the Material-Semiotic Networks of Violence across Borders”, above note 7.

102 F. Fanon, above note 43, p. 198, emphasis added.

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115 The VIPRE Initiative is an international collaboration led by Jonathan Luke Austin, who conceived, designed and is implementing the project. For more details, see: www.vipre.ch.

116 J. L. Austin, Small Worlds of Violence, above note 7.

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Ibid

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Ibid

120 J. L. Austin, Small Worlds of Violence, above note 7.

121 C. Liscano, above note 1, p. 71, emphasis added.

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