The Body in Pain

The Body in Pain
by AmirAshkan Pishroo

For good reason: if social scientists agree on anything, it is that torture can never be defended on the grounds of military necessity.

The object of torture is torture. On the need for such a qualification, we must turn to the remarkable scholar Elaine Scarry, the author of The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, which is a thorough study of pain and torture from medical, political, military, legal, and literary perspectives.

In this book Scarry argues that the intelligence that interrogatory torture obtains is overall unreliable, trivial, or already known for the most part by the torturers. And most torture isn't interrogatory to begin with. She points out that what the torturer really enjoys is humiliating his victim rather than making him scream in agony. The scream is merely one more humiliation.

The worst thing you can do to somebody is not to make her scream in agony but to use that agony in such a way that even when the agony is over, she cannot reconstitute herself. The idea is to get her to do or say things--and , if possible, believe and desire things, think thoughts--which later she will be unable to cope with having done or thought.

You can thereby, as Scarry puts it, "unmake her world" by making it impossible for her to use language to describe what she has been.

Simply put, the purpose of torture is to punish, to humiliate, and to assert authority, obtaining information is a myth.


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شکنجه زیباشناسی مرگ است


that phrase is the most puzzling to me

would you care to elaborate by any chance? I am lost 


AmirAshkan Pishroo

Dear Mazloom and IRANdokht

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

Reading her book wasn't a jolly-joy-ride, for me, either.  I was writing in Persian something about "pain" and "language" that I came across her book which was a great help. I relaized that

شکنجه زیباشناسی مرگ است


AmirAshkan Pishroo

There is no answer to your question, Ali P.

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

For  liberals, like myself, there is no answer to the question "Is it right to deliver n innocents over to be tortured to save the lives of m x n other innocents? If so, what are the correct values of n and m?"

There is no algorithms for resolving moral dilemmas of this sort. Those who claim there are, they are, in their hearts, a theologian or a metaphysician.

Most nonintellectuals believe that there must be one, an order which determines the point of human existence, on one hand, and establishes a hierarchy of responsibilities, on the other.

AmirAshkan Pishroo

Surf, Ali P., don’t Waterboard

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

This is Maxim, friend of Amir-Ashkan, with whom I am visiting right now and going through some of these comments. On March 13, 2008, I wrote a piece about "waterboarding." Here is the last part of it:

It is often the most senior military officials who recognize the futility of draconian interrogation methods. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Harry E. Soyster, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency summed up the value of such methods “Torture is counterproductive on all fronts. It produces bad intelligence. It ruins the subject, makes them useless for further interrogation. And it damages our credibility around the world”.

The only logical explanation for Bush’s veto is the overwhelming influence of the hit show “24”, reported to be a white house favorite. If Ali Reza does not cooperate, a bullet in the kneecap usually does the trick. How can thirty admirals and generals argue with the effectiveness of Jack Bauer’s techniques?


I know what Jack bauer would do

by IRANdokht on

Dear Ali P.

I think the scenario you have provided is similar to what the makers of "24" (FOX TV show) used to justify the torture that the "terrorists" received from Jack Bauer, paving the way for the final word of the administration on the advanced interrogation methods.

The reality is that the information obtained using these methods is not always reliable anyway, and they may just tell you what they think you want to hear.

The way I read this book introduction, I believe it's talking more about long term torture methods and its relation to the torturer's mentality.

So what would you do to that captured prisoner? how far would you go?


Ali P.

Answer this!

by Ali P. on

It's easy to be against torture in ordinary cases. Almost all of us are.

 If gets tough, when you face a scenario like this:

You have captured one of the culprits responsible for "Cinema Rex" in Abadan, burning hundreds of innocent people .

 He belongs to a ring that may attack again.

Conventional intorregations techniques don't work on him. He's convinced he's doing God's work.

He won't say a word.

 He's your only connection to this group.

You are the interregator.

I won't know what to do.

Would you?


Not convincing!

by formerly tortured (not verified) on

The trouble with the majority of social "science" theories is that they are not scientific. In other words, hardly any of them is backed up by solid statistical data or clinical trials. In reality these theories can hardly be tested oon anything bust a limited sample.

I for one was tortured and gave away all the sensitive and secret information that held. The choice was clear: my life or theirs. I chose the first.


Pain forces submission

by WTH (not verified) on

Submission forces appeasement. Look at all Iranians condoning Islam and its barbarity on Iranians.


Reading this book would be

by IRANdokht on

Reading this book would be hard for me too...   I wouldn't be able to get the explained methods out of my head. But it does sound like a very timely educational piece.  




Well said

by Mazloom on

...but I'll never be able to read this book.  As it is, I am already sleepless thinking about the people who are being hanged by cranes in Iran.