absolute power, Anne Speckhard, malignant narcissism, medieval v modern, policy, torture, violence and impunity
Just as the authors identify the factors that are predictive of those individuals and situations that are most likely to give rise to torture, they also identify the psychosocial sequelae of engaging in torture. These include dissociative personality splinters, social isolation, avoidance of reminders, self-condemnation with guilt and shame, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks, nightmares and sleep disturbances, high arousal states with the inability to concentrate or sleep well, and drug and alcohol abuse to forget and painful emotional states upon remembering. Lastly, the authors identify the practices that can be put in place to protect individuals from crossing the line into perpetrating abuse, atrocities, and torture upon those placed in their custody. Torture, as noted by Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments (United Nations, 1984; 1987):
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Speckhard, Anne and Charles Figley and Ardian Shajkovci. “Psychosocial Drivers, Prevention and Sequelae of Engaging in Torture.” International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, April 17, 2017.
. . . the thoughtful individual needs to examine some core questions—the first being—does torture in any of it’s forms, including “torture lite” work? The answer appears to be a resounding no. Torture for the most part fails as a tactic because it does not leads to credible information, is problematic later for anyone we wish to prosecute, and may actually contribute far more to terrorism recruitment rather than to curbing terrorism. When dealing with al Qaeda for instance we must understand that most hardened terrorists who have blood on their hands have committed themselves to the idea of “martyrdom” and may be adept at misleading us when we believe they have cracked under torture. And when we resort to anything that is morally bankrupt they will later use it against us to show their constituents and potential recruits our “true colors”.
By contrast, interrogation that relies on rapport building has shown itself to yield positive results . . . .
Speckhard, Anne. “Zero Dark Thirty — And the Real World of Torture, Enhanced Interrogation, Rendition and Prolonged Detention.” Anne Speckhard, Ph.D, March 4, 2013.
Among other topics expertly engaged, Dr. Anne Speckhard has been working the issues on the subject of torture for many years.
If the repercussions are so bad and the results so thin, why do we persist with the same in practice?
BackChannels may suggest that engagement in torture represents the power of ownership of another experienced by the malign narcissist and is in the end, always, an expression of unbridled absolute power, i.e., the power to inflict suffering on others with impunity.
In his classic Russia Under the Old Regime, scholar Richard Pipes remarks on the meaning of sovereignty in the recession of Mongol power and subsequent princely Russian attitude toward property and persons as being alike — the power to destroy either the demonstration of sovereign ownership (approximate pages 70-80).
Note: between age, interests, and sedentary lifestyle at the desktop, your BackChannels editor is tiring and has two choice regarding loose scholarship: read less and slowly with pen, foolscap, and note cards at hand; continue remembering generally; or move off to a different kind of writing. As regards Pipes, he’s masterful with analysis, complexity, and detail, and he will take the reader into the locking mechanisms between political exigency, political evolution in language, and the projection of political power.
For the purposes of this blog, the editor believe Moscow has deeply narcissistic issues supporting “absolute power” and all of the horror rightly associated with the demonstration of the complete absence of conscience in relation to the suffering of others.
On a more near historic note, author Anna Funder relays the testimony of a former Stasi prisoner arrested first for seditious leafleting and then again — having been motivated by the former imprisonment — for having attempted a crossing into then West Germany. The form of torture during the second stay was sleep deprivation. Here’s how that went down:
On the eleventh night, Miriam gave them what they wanted. ‘I thought, “You people want an underground escape organisation?” Well, I’ll give you one then.”
Fleischer had won.
‘There,’ he said, ‘that wasn’t so bad now, was it? Why didn’t you tell us earlier and save yourself all this trouble?’ They let her sleep for a fortnight, and gave her one book each week. She read it in a day, then started memorising the pages, walking up and down in the cell with the book to her chest.
‘In retrospect it’s funny,’ Miriam says, ‘but at the time it was pure, unalloyed frustration. I cooked them up a story I would not have believed myself, even then. It was utterly absurd.”
‘Miriam’ was on the far side of sixteen at the time she “cooked them up a story” in exchange for a little sleep.
Funder, Anna. Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall. U.S. Edition, paperback. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
Pipes, Richard. Russia Under the Old Regime: The History of Civilization. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974.
Additional Reading Online
Bukovsky, Vladimir. “Torture’s Long Shadow.” The Washington Post, December 18, 2005:
One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. “But, Comrade Stalin,” stammered Beria, “five suspects have already confessed to stealing it.”
This joke, whispered among those who trusted each other when I was a kid in Moscow in the 1950s, is perhaps the best contribution I can make to the current argument in Washington about legislation banning torture and inhumane treatment of suspected terrorists captured abroad. Now that President Bush has made a public show of endorsing Sen. John McCain’s amendment, it would seem that the debate is ending. But that the debate occurred at all, and that prominent figures are willing to entertain the idea, is perplexing and alarming to me. I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse.
Fair for Look-Up
Through torture, it would seem the torturer learns most of all about himself, if he learns anything, and when it’s over, he may be treated to the sight of himself in media as ever deranged, infantile, sadistic, and tyrannical.