Tag Archives: torture as teaching

Completely Destroyed

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Should anyone still be baffled by the utter collapse of USA moral authority in the dark world of global politics, we recommend a close reading of a recent report submitted by a noted forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Keram, as part of a renewed effort to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, a British resident still being held at Guantanamo Bay without charge, despite having been cleared for release for the past seven years. Below, we focus on quotes from Shaker Aamer himself, as he describes his experience of torture at the Bagram detention facility to Dr. Keram:


As we have proposed elsewhere, torture is not a means of acquiring intelligence; torture is a teaching delivered by the powerful, to destroy utterly any semblance of subjective identity, agency and autonomy. As Mr. Aamer tells Dr. Keram,


Systems of torture are constantly in the process of refinement, with humans serving as laboratory animals inside the behavioral maze. How does this differ from the monstrous activities of the Nazi doctors? Even kindness is refashioned as an implement for inflicting deep psychic damage:




From Bagram and Kandahar, Mr. Aamer was then taken to further indefinite detainment at Guantanamo Bay, where the complicity of medical personnel became ever more perverse:


Will that also be our defense, when we are finally held accountable for these actions? That we were possessed by evil djinn? In the attempted destruction of human beings like Shaker Aamer, we have also destroyed ourselves.

The Little School


In the lucid Afterword to his most important (and too soon forgotten) book A Miracle, A Universe, Lawrence Weschler develops a conception of history as a battle over who gets to say “I”, that is, who gets to embody and enact their subjectivity. In this conception, torture is cast as essentially a form of teaching, with the core curriculum focused on destroying any semblance of existential autonomy; crushing any aspiration or expression that exceeds “abject objecthood”. Going deeper, Weschler writes:


Any moment of rupture inside this enveloping silence becomes a triumph of the subject against the brutal pedagogy of the Torture Room. Consider in this light the extraordinary “tales of disappearance and survival” recounted by Alicia Partnoy in The Little School. In this memoir of her experience as a prisoner during the Argentine Dirty War, Partnoy refuses to grant her torturers primacy within the narrative of her time as a victim of their teaching. Instead, her focus is on her fellow prisoners (their refusal to be stripped down into despondent solitude) and on their persistently expansive sensoria ( their refusal to be defined by or reduced to their pain).

Returning to Weschler in the final page of his last chapter, just prior to the Afterword, he quotes from a poem by Stanislaw Baranczak, “Those Men, So Powerful”:

From our perspective up here in the crow’s nest of Desperado Philosophy, the battle over who gets to say “I” has never been more vivid; and the ones who stand above have never been more afraid.