Torture Works - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Torture Works

Torture Works

Published February 3, 2017

Photo by
Art Bicnick

History speaks from the lips of President Trump. It is the crude and truthful voice of human mayhem and we should listen closely. The man is her beloved agent, a dedicated distributor of confusion and fury, a Hegelian incarnation of the nameless laws and mysteries at the heart of our existence. I was waiting for him to say torture was “fantastic” or ‘amazing” but he chose to assert that torture “absolutely works.” This was his first interview as president, a shining planet of orange on television, and the verdict is already here. Torture works.

Fuck your idiotic progress, there’s no right side of me. Your dream is but a shadow. Your life is only a story, told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is history’s yawning Shakespearean message now, waking up from her latest sleep of decades. And is the Clown of Clowns correct?

Of course he is.

Don’t ask the Guardian or the New York Times or Vox. Ask the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. Ask the ghosts of civilization. Coercion is one of history’s catchiest melodies. Time is the ultimate stressor. Its currents carry away redundant ideas, things and passions. Repetition is the filter of history. And human life is the eternal return of horrors. Did we really think it was over because we loved goodness?

The horrific carnage of the 20th century ended peacefully with the marriage of liberal values and market capitalism. It was consummated before the altar of progress. One of the compromises made was the ban on torture. We didn’t include a ban on torture in all major international legal agreements because it doesn’t work. The Geneva Conventions weren’t negotiated in the aftermath of the Second World War because torture doesn’t work. The United Nations Convention against Torture doesn’t have 160 state parties because some academics have so conveniently concluded that torture doesn’t work. We have these things precisely because Trump is correct here. However, let’s not be naive. This kind of debate is intellectual bullshit at best. Torture is not a washing machine. It is not something that simply either works or not and nothing in between. Torture has various faces and multiple ends. But of course violence can get you what you fucking want! That’s why it is a recurrent theme of history. That’s why we need infinitely complex legal instruments to try to prevent it.

The same goes for all other human rights. Nobody who believes in and is ready to fight for freedom of speech does so because he also believes censorship doesn’t work. The core myth behind human rights in the Western world is that we choose to believe that means don’t justify ends. What works is not necessarily right. Something can be wrong precisely because it works too well. At least that’s what we used to believe. The marriage might be over now. There’s blood on the kitchen floor. Keep listening to the Prophet of Chaos for clues. There’s so much truth in his lies.

Tonight I will picture myself in a cold room at a black site, lying on my back, hands tied. Darkness and a small lamp. A man wearing a white shirt covering my face with a cloth. A bland face, a Red Bull, a cigarette burning in his mouth. And here comes the water now, cascading from an old plastic bottle in his hand, attacking my breath, burning my lungs. Tell me the truth, he screams. Can truth save me? What is truth? Did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed contemplate this when they waterboarded him for the fourteenth time? Will Pilate’s famous question conquer my mind just before consciousness escapes me? Is it a question that troubles the Prophet as well?

I don’t think Christ will be there to answer me with silence. Let’s not forget they tortured and killed him for speaking the truth, not for concealing it.

There’s probably a philosophical dimension to all this. Humans torture, always they have, always they will, because deep down they understand that truth and suffering are inherent in each other.

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