Academic journal article Framework

Gender, Power, and Pedagogy in Coco Fusco's Bare Life Study #1 (2005), A Room of One's Own (2005), and Operation Atropos (2006)

Academic journal article Framework

Gender, Power, and Pedagogy in Coco Fusco's Bare Life Study #1 (2005), A Room of One's Own (2005), and Operation Atropos (2006)

Article excerpt

What is the political utility of the public reenactment of torture and interrogation techniques used by the U.S. military in the Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo detention centers? What are the different ways in which such reenactments might be executed, and how do these differences in performance and documentary style impact the intervention such political dramas make? In the August 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens published a four-page, photo-illustrated account of his personal experience of waterboarding at the hands of Special Forces agents who had undergone the training known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape).1 As a title in the online video supplement to the article informs viewers, "Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter asked Christopher Hitchens if he would be willing to subject himself to the form of torture known as waterboarding. Hitchens accepted."2 The stated goals of this reenactment of the scene of torture are twofold: 1) to establish whether waterboarding should be considered "torture" or not, and 2) to explore the "narrow but deep distinction" between training to resist and training to inflict. Hitchens answers the first question with a resounding yes, as bold and at times tautological titles interspersed throughout the article declare with no ambiguity, "Believe Me, It's Torture," and, "If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture." Though the article does obliquely address the question of whether SERE veterans consider waterboarding to be torture or not, it does little to address the important questions of why, in certain cases, it seems relatively difficult to establish what constitutes torture and what doesn't, or what the difference between "training to resist" and "training to inflict" is.

More problematic than this is the way that Hitchens so easily moves into the position of torture victim, even experiencing recovered memories and traumatic dreams. In the close-up filmed interview with him after the waterboarding sequence, he admits that though he is not a man to have nightmares, he now has nightmares of being smothered. And in the article, he confesses, "To tell you something I had been keeping from myself as well as from my new experimental friends, I do have a fear of drowning that comes from a bad childhood moment on the Isle of Wight, when I got out of my depth" (71). Though the off-hand and wry tone of this narrative of fear clearly aims to keep his personal drama at bay, the article and video ultimately foreground the subjective experiences of Hitchens as victim over the larger structural questions that the sanctioned use of torture and interrogation by the United States in the war on terror needs to provoke, such as where and under what conditions soldiers learn their interrogation tactics, how we might explain the nation's passive and/or confused response to this issue, or what to make of the gendered, sexualized, and racialized aspects of the images of torture that caught the media's attention. The focus on Hitchens's subjective experience is emphasized verbally by the paragraph that introduces the video, which begins, "How does it feel to be 'aggressively interrogated'? Christopher Hitchens found out for himself," and then visually by the way in which the camera focuses first on Hitchens's body as it is waterboarded, and then on his face, in a closely cropped interview that occurs after the experiment.3 Furthermore, although Hitchens's "torturers" are former SERE training instructors, the site of interrogation training (in which, under normal circumstances, Hitchens's role would be that of a future interrogator) mutates into the site of torture, making the pedagogical dimension of the scenario disappear along with his potential affiliation with the perpetrators. Finally, in his print narrative, Hitchens replaces critical analysis of the complex landscape of torture with a form of journalistic heroism that allows him to fantasize himself into a naïve, sensationalized, almost sacrificial role. …

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