Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Tzevetan Todorov: The Fear of Barbarians
In American prisons scattered across the various countries of the world, but outside the United States, prisoners are regularly raped, hung from hooks, subjected to waterboarding, burned, attached to electrodes, deprived of food, water or medicine, attacked by dogs, or beaten until their bones are broken. When on American military bases or on American territory, they are subjected to sensory deprivation or other systematic mistreatment of the senses. A hat is put on them to stop them from hearing anything, a hood to stop them seeing anything, surgical masks to prevent them being able to smell, thick gloves to neutralize their sense of touch. Or they have “white noise” inflicted on them, or else violent noise and total silence alternate at irregular intervals. They are prevented from sleeping, either by having a strong electric light kept on day and night, or by subjecting them to interrogation that can last for up to 24 hours at a time, for 48 days in succession. Or they are forced to pass from extreme cold to extreme heat, and vice versa. None of these techniques, it is alleged, cause the “deterioration of bodily functions” that would constitute torture.