"The Torturable Class"


A reader writes:

I've just finished Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" (a marvelous summer read), and was struck by the relevance of one of the dialogs to your blog's threads on torture. The dialog is between the English protagonist, Wormold, and the Cuban military torturer, Capt. Segura, over a game of checkers:

      ‘Did you torture him?’
      Captain Segura laughed. ‘No. He doesn’t belong to the torturable class.’
      ‘I didn’t know there were class-distinctions in torture.’
      ‘Dear Mr Wormold, surely you realize there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea. One never tortures except by a kind of mutual agreement.’
      ‘There’s torture and torture. When they broke up Dr Hasselbacher’s laboratory they were torturing … ?’
      ‘One can never tell what amateurs may do. The police had no concern in that. Dr Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable class.’
      ‘Who does?’
      ‘The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with émigrés from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal. You see, I was right to make that king, and now I shall huff you for the last time.’
      ‘You always win, don’t you? That’s an interesting theory of yours.’
      ‘One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don’t recognize class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or in the prisons of Lisbon and Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress.’
      ‘We’re not shocked by that any longer.’
      ‘It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.’

I think perhaps the masses in the US are not currently outraged by the Bush administration's torture policy because they are torturing those of "the torturable class" - i.e. Arabs, Afghans, and other non-whites.  When they begin sending nice white boys off to be held without trial and tortured, perhaps there will finally be a real outcry. 

What an odd thing to have to hope for.

(Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty.)