All posts by Parsa Bastani

Torture, Care, and the De-Nationalized Other

In the readings for this week, we have observed what Agamben astutely notes as the separation between bare life (zoe) and political life (bios). In his chapter on biopolitics, he argues that the rights of man (located in zoe), as was enshrined by the various declarations of rights, does not necessarily encompass the rights of citizens (located in bios). As Stevenson and Ticktin show, the point of intervention for modern humanitarianism has been zoe and not bios. For example, Stevenson tracks and critiques the biopolitical mode of “anonymous care” or a “regime in which it doesn’t matter who you are, just that you stay alive” (p.7). Ticktin also makes us privy to how humanitarian assistance in France has focused on the provision of temporary residency and medical care to “apolitical,” diseased bodies of color. These texts alert us to the injurious effects minimal forms of care have on communities, families, and bodies.

However, I would like to draw our attention to a related yet different process: torture. In these situations, there is no pretense of care. The body becomes a site upon which the law, and the various exceptions enshrined within it, allow for the state to mutilate and kill bodies for the sake of national security. In the links below, you can see how torture at secret CIA facilities and Guantanamo Bay has resulted in both physical and psychological harm.


Miami Herald Article About Anal Surgery

Short Film about Torture

NYT Piece about long term effects of Torture


This is quite a different perspective of zoe than Stevenson and Ticktin offer. With the case of torture, there is a distinct process of “de-nationalization” (Agamben, p.132) that occurs in which US and non-US citizens are stripped of all their rights and made subject to extra-judicial, extractive, and inhume interrogation techniques. Torture necessitates the removal of bios and the creation of bare life. However, interesting to note in the links is that the US government does not always admit to torture or not providing adequate medical care. In many ways, torture has become the US’s “public secret.”

Here is the quote from the NYT article that I would like to serve as a springboard for discussion by Captain Shimkus, the previous commanding officer that managed the Guantanamo Bay Hospital.

“Captain Shimkus now regrets not making more inquiries. “There was a conflict,” he said, ‘between our medical duty to our patients and our duty to the mission, as soldiers.'”

In this quote we see care and torture as mutually exclusive phenomenon. I wonder though, if torture, despite its utter absence of care, can be a means to think conceptually about care. To be more specific, I am curious about whether torture is an example in which the absence of care for one body, a tortured and de-nationalized other, results in the care of another body, a national citizen. How does torture engender discourses of care, be they related to caring for the nation-state, national security, or national citizenry? Does torture’s relationship to national security show that care and compassion can be produced on the mangled bodies and psyches of a de-nationalized other? How is care not just a tactile relationship between the care giver and the cared for, but a symbolic relationship that is dependent on the violent (inclusive) exclusion of zoe from the polis?