In this Article, I argue that the obstacles to having a serious conversation about torture are exacerbated by a truth that torture teaches us - a truth that we cannot afford fully to know and, so, frantically try to obscure. Law is about respect for commitments and limits, and the existence of torture challenges the possibility of such respect. If we are prepared to torture, then, it would seem, we are prepared to do anything, and the restraint that law purports to impose upon us is a fraud. Torture's truth, then, is that all of our promises to ourselves and to others are ultimately contingent. In related, albeit distinguishable, ways, torture shows us a truth about ourselves as individuals and as a society. In the most direct and literal sense, torture teaches us as individuals that we are slaves to our bodies and that our beliefs, our values, and our moral obligations - in short, all that makes us human - count for nothing when our bodies are at stake. And while this is true literally about the human body, it is also true metaphorically about the body politic. When it comes to it, we as human beings will do whatever it takes to stop the pain, just as we as societies will do whatever it takes to preserve our corporate identity.
To fully understand this truth is to deny that law is possible. Indeed, it is to deny that human life as we generally conceive of it is possible. For just this reason, we cannot know this truth. Yet neither can we fully evade it.
72 U. Chi. L. Rev. 881-918 (2005).
Scholarly Commons Citation
Seidman, Louis Michael, "Torture's Truth" (2005). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 562.