Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tortured Reality

Andrew Sullivan links to Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who has this to say about torture based on the Uzbekistani version:

In gathering evidence from victims of torture, we built a consistent picture of the narrative which the torturers were seeking to validate from confessions under torture. They sought confessions which linked domestic opposition to President Karimov with Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden; they sought to exaggerate the strength of the terrorist threat in Central Asia. People arrested on all sorts of pretexts – (I recall one involved in a dispute over ownership of a garage plot) suddenly found themselves tortured into confessing to membership of both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Al-Qaida. They were also made to confess to attending Al-Qaida training camps in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In an echo of Stalin’s security services from which the Uzbek SNB had an unbroken institutional descent, they were given long lists of names of people they had to confess were also in IMU and Al-Qaida.

It became obvious to me after just a few weeks that the CIA material from Uzbekistan was giving precisely the same narrative being extracted by the Uzbek torturers – and that the CIA “intelligence” was giving information far from the truth.

I was immediately concerned that British ministers and officials were being unknowingly exposed to material derived from torture, and therefore were acting illegally.
This dimension of torture is worth a reminder, perhaps especially in the context of "it works" claims... From a post here at Phronesisaical, October 15, 2006:
From the early Middle Ages to the 18th Century, those who were accused of being witches were tortured and thrown on the stake. Not, however, before being forced to give up another name of another witch, and not before having been tortured into explaining reality from the metaphysics of witchdom.

See, one of the accusations made against witches was that they determined the weather - more precisely, bad weather. Lightning, thunderstorms, high winds, were all the doing of witches. For a seafaring age, this influence had economic and political importance as well. When witches were tortured, they were forced to confess their dark manipulations of the weather.

Under torture, of course, one will say anything. This requires that the institution and "triangulation" of torture (and political torture is always institutionalized) engage in the practice broadly so that someone, sometime will surrender useful information out of all the desperate misinformation. In saying anything - perhaps, in the delirium of torture, even believing it - the accused witches would provide the most fantastic stories about their devilish manipulation of the weather. These were stories constructed not only from mere fantasy, but from dreamlike contradictions and paradoxes. So, one tortured story went, the nefarious coven rowed out to sea in a sieve to conjure storms against the king's ships bringing them near the dangerous, wave-strewn rocks.

Various scholars during the period attempted to explain that witches were unlikely to be the source of foul weather. But these scholars risked their own fate on the stake, and, in fact, many were doomed as heretics over the centuries. Notice that, then, the reality of weather was explained through a fantastical delirium that confirmed the mythical suspicions of church and political rulers. Fantasy confirmed fantasy through the abused and uncontrolled imagination of torture and, hence, became reality. Apart from the political uses of torture and the stake, the delirium of the witch became, in effect, the science of weather, something which, to this day, lies beyond fully accurate scientific prediction and technological control.

This is what is at stake in the current institutionalization, the precipice, of torture: the very nature of reality.

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