Torture as Entertainment

Robert Fisk in the Guardian asks why torturers film their handiwork.

When prisoners were brought to Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service for interrogation, their torturers often videotaped the torment …. The videos were originally shot to shame the prisoners, but also, I suspect, for the sense of domination it gave the torturers.

The Abu Ghraib pictures – US torturers taking over the role of the Iraqi thugs in the very same prison in which many of the earlier Saddam videos were shot – had perhaps the same purpose. Lynndie England saw nothing particularly wrong with them. That was what Iraq was like, wasn’t it? And we must forget, of course, that other American pictures from Abu Ghraib, which Obama the Good has decided we must not see, show the rape of Iraqi women and boys.

Janina Struk’s new book on soldiers’ private pictures of war, which I wrote about last week, contains some paragraphs about the new military art of filming, editing and producing war by video, the soldiers’ very own version of Hollywood, in which real soldiers play themselves in real life and real Iraqis are cut down and killed in front of the camera. If the Vietnam-era US army could take photos of its own atrocities, American soldiers in Iraq have gone a step further.

Fisk suggests that filming torture and killing may serve to desensitise soldiers .. presumably to make them indifferent to the suffering of others; but maybe what it does is increase sensitivity to the suffering of others as pleasure. American Gen. Mattis is famous for his remark that ‘shooting some people is fun’ and his justification of that.



If shooting people is fun and torture is justified then why not treat it as fun to be filmed? Torture is a counter productive tool in a fight against terrorism.



Torture and the filming of it as a kind of sadistic pornography brings to mind the vampire meme in popular culture where vampires are sustained and entertained by the blood and fear of their victims. This meme possibly mythologises the kind of inherent savagery that Camille Paglia talks about in her essay ‘It’s a Jungle Out There‘:

Aggression and eroticism are deeply intertwined. Hunt, pursuit, and capture are biologically programmed into male sexuality. Generation after generation, men must be educated, refined, and ethically persuaded away from their tendency toward anarchy and brutishness. Society is not the enemy, as feminism ignorantly claims. Society is woman’s protection against rape. Feminism, with its solemn Carry Nation repressiveness, does not see what is for men the eroticism or fun element in rape, especially the wild, infectious delirium of gang rape. Women who do not understand rape cannot defend themselves against it.

The savagery behind torture and rape and killing for fun is pretty obvious. I don’t know that I would go all the way with Paglia in seeing this as genetically inherent with society/culture being a ‘protector’. I think society can and does modify instinct but sometimes society gives its members the moral sanction or ‘green light’ to be cruel. Gen. Mattis gives and is given moral sanction for his attitude.

This is from Wired:

How did you react when Graner told you how the detainees were being treated?

Of course it was wrong. I know that now. But when you show the people from the CIA, the FBI and the MI the pictures and they say, “Hey, this is a great job. Keep it up”, you think it must be right. They were all there and they didn’t say a word. They didn’t wear uniforms, and if they did they had their nametags covered.

Which photos did Graner present to them?

All of them. He showed them on his laptop. He’d say, “Hey, let me show you this, this is what we’re supposed to be doing.” And they said, “Yeah, we got great results, keep it up, you’re doing a good job.” He actually got a letter of commendation for the stuff he did.

Grunts like Lynndie England might come to enjoy the torture because it’s fun but their enjoyment, the release of instinct, whatever, is sanctioned by those higher up like Gen Mattis and, at some level, by society.