Picto Article

Becoming a torturer towards a global ergonomics of care

Riccardo BOCCO
Jonathan Luke AUSTIN

How do people become torturers? And how do we stop that transformation? This article addresses these questions by calling on academics and practitioners to consider caring for – expressing sympathy, understanding, and working with – the figure of the "not-quite-yet” torturer. We begin by noting the globality of torture across space and regime type, and suggest that this globality indicates how torture is – very frequently – not the result of any decision or order. This is followed by a discussion of the "consciousness” of the torturer vis-à-vis (1) their paradoxical emotional scarring by their own actions, and (2) their frequent descriptions of having, indeed, never themselves "intended” to torture someone. Drawing on recent developments in the theory of consciousness, we then argue that this nonpurposeful enaction of torture can be understood in terms of certain somatic markers that lead, in particular material-situational settings, to people slipping towards violence. Drawing on the theory of the emergence of violence put forward by Jonathan Luke Austin, we then sketch out more fully the process of becoming a torturer in terms of the situational and material dynamics that encourage these slippages, as well as a global circulatory system of violent knowledges through various sources that become activated in particular settings. We thus suggest that becoming a torturer is more a process of transition than of decision, before noting that this distinction is often lost in the cultural cycle of torture that emerges once torture has begun. Finally, we move to outlining the implications of this non-purposeful understanding of torture by arguing for a new preventive strategy based on the principles of ergonomics and modifying the training regimes of the most common professions from which torturers emerge (the military, the police, etc.) in order to make it harder to slip towards violence. We suggest, ultimately, that this strategy of prevention requires placing ourselves in the uncomfortable position of working to care for both the becoming-torturer and the torturers themselves, in order to help them both preserve their own humanity.