What's Wrong with the Torturer?

Abstract

In this paper I attempt to both look beyond our general contempt for torture to investigate the processes and procedures that must be in place for torture to even occur and show how our contempt actually serves to support these processes and procedures. The idea that the torturer is not simply someone who performs a particular activity but rather someone who, through his activity, becomes something alien and nightmarish to us has become so ingrained in our understanding of torture that it is rather difficult to remember that, regardless of how we might feel about it, the torturer is still a person performing an activity. Yet if we begin to take this simple fact more seriously and try to understand how particular people came to perform these particular activities then perhaps we can achieve a more realistic depiction of torture that is not just victim versus torturer, but instead something far more complicated. By looking at what torturers have said - in interviews, testimonies, and memoirs - rather than only what has been said about them, we can find that many of the concepts that have been applied to victims of torture can be usefully applied to the perpetrators as well, thus requiring that we pay more attention to the context in which torture takes place and less attention to merely our outrage over the fact that torture does take place.

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Nolen Gertz
University of Twente

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