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No one looks the same

August 24, 2012

A recent testimonial released as part of the Human Rights Watch’s “Torture in Archipelago” dossier includes transcripts of an interviews with defected soldiers. In one of these interviews published in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s magazine, a former soldier after recounting the case of a captured rebel who was beaten to death with batons noted how his face was completely different before he was taken away. “No one looks the same after we have arrested them.”

To look differently implies an implicit change in one’s personality, even in the colloquial use of the term, it is a symptom of a shift, however insignificant or ephemeral. We are used to deduce from the way one looks if s/he is tired, happy, excited, sad, anxious etc. Ultimately, the changes in the dead body and its gradual disintegration into nature is the final transformation of the human figure: it becomes non-human.

Non-Human Simulation, by Trauma FX

Torture, divorced from its religious and spiritual functions, is the attempt to dehumanize the subject by use of force, turning him/her into something else that does not have the same features and thus the same rights as a human being. This is achieved by disfiguring the subjects and in its extreme iteration, annihilating them. Once the subject looks visually different before the torturer, s/he becomes unrecognizable as a member of the same species. The transformation of the physical features of a person takes place in the surface of the image, it is there that violence visualizes itself, as Nancy suggests. Torture is thus used to proclaim the enemy non-human and as such exempt it from humane treatment as it “looks totally different,” according to the defected soldier.

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