Sarah Sentilles writes forcefully about the topic:

The interrogation room is an intimate space. Other than a bedroom or an operating room, there is perhaps no more physically intimate space. Unlike a pilot who drops a bomb on a city far below, the torturer touches his victim, talks to him, looks him in the eye, hears him scream. In 1985’s The Body in Paina groundbreaking study of torture, war, and human creativityElaine Scarry writes that torture happens in three sequential steps. First, the torturer inflicts pain. Second, the pain is objectified (that is, made visible to those not experiencing pain). Third, the torturer denies that another human being is in pain.

It’s not that the torturer doesn’t see the pain or realize that the person is in pain; rather, the torturer denies the pain by turning it into something else. The torturer transforms another person’s pain into a symbola symbol of strength, of empire, of sacrifice, of righteousness, of power. And because of this transformation, because of this denial, the torturer can return to step one, inflicting ever-increasing amounts of pain on the person standing right next to him.

(Photo: the feet of a chained Jose Padilla, a US citizen tortured and abused by his own government before formal charges or a trial.)

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