The Body in Pain

For good reason: if social scientists agree on anything, it is that torture can never be defended on the grounds of military necessity.

The object of torture is torture. On the need for such a qualification, we must turn to the remarkable scholar Elaine Scarry, the author of The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, which is a thorough study of pain and torture from medical, political, military, legal, and literary perspectives.

In this book Scarry argues that the intelligence that interrogatory torture obtains is overall unreliable, trivial, or already known for the most part by the torturers. And most torture isn’t interrogatory to begin with. She points out that what the torturer really enjoys is humiliating his victim rather than making him scream in agony. The scream is merely one more humiliation.

The worst thing you can do to somebody is not to make her scream in agony but to use that agony in such a way that even when the agony is over, she cannot reconstitute herself. The idea is to get her to do or say things–and , if possible, believe and desire things, think thoughts–which later she will be unable to cope with having done or thought.

You can thereby, as Scarry puts it, “unmake her world” by making it impossible for her to use language to describe what she has been.

Simply put, the purpose of torture is to punish, to humiliate, and to assert authority, obtaining information is a myth.

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