Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This diagram was prepared by Bruce Jessen, a psychologist whose work was instrumental in the design of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Program, used by the US Department of Defense and the CIA to torture their detainees.

What interests me about this diagram is the way the prisoner at the center is treated as a zone of indetermination that can either undermine or substantiate Carl Schmitt's friend/enemy distinction. First, noticed that the American interrogator is labeled in the diagram as the enemy, while the terrorist group back at home is the friend (in the prisoner's mind, of course). The point is to transform the enemy into a friend and the friend into an enemy, that is, to make the prisoner collaborate with the enemy and resist his friend.

To achieve this goal, torture is actually presented as counterproductive. Punishment from the enemy (the interrogator), coupled with the potential reward from the friend (predicated on the prisoner's unwillingness to collaborate), leads to colossal failure (this is the left side of the diagram). Success lies on the right: rewarding the prisoner (thus making him feel that the interrogating enemy is actually a friend), while instilling the notion that collaboration will lead to punishment from the friend back at home (thus transforming the friend into the new enemy of the prisoner).

Of course, turning the friend-enemy distinction on its head is only an illusion. The interrogator will never be the prisoner's friend, and the prisoner knows it. This is why the interrogator always remains an enemy in the diagram, even when collaboration is achieved (the same is true about the friend).

But what is most intriguing about this diagram is that the prisoner is labeled in it neither as a friend nor as an enemy. Instead, the prisoner creates a zone of indistinction between the two categories. Put differently, the prisoner is the sovereign who decides on who is a friend and who is an enemy.

It is therefore not a coincidence that the prisoner is depicted in the diagram as if crucified. What Christ does to the Jew/Gentile distinction the prisoner does to the friend/enemy distinction. This becomes clear when one considers Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor,” where the image of Christ and that of the prisoner merge into one. In the parable, Christ returns to Spain in the sixteenth century, performs a few miracles, and is adored by the people as the true Messiah. But before long the cynical Inquisition, which perceives Jesus as a threat to the status quo, decides to sentence him to death. Christ does not utter a word throughout the parable, so the bulk of the text is dominated by the long speech of the Grand Inquisitor during his nocturnal visit to the cell where the Resurrected awaits his execution. But Christ does reply to this speech, though not with words. When the old inquisitor concludes his denunciation, at the very end of the parable, Christ gently kisses the old man on his “bloodless” lips.

Schmitt, who was a devout Roman Catholic, could be easily compared to the Grand Inquisitor. I wonder what would be his reaction if, at the end of one of his lectures in which he discussed his friend/enemy distinction, one of the audience members (preferably a Jew) were to approach him behind the lectern and kiss the eloquent jurist on his bloodless lips.

And who knows, maybe in one of the interrogation cells in Guatanamo Bay a prisoner is leaning over right now and kissing his American interrogator. I would love to see this scene at the end of a Hollywoodian psychological thriller about a CIA agent and an al-Qaeda operative. Maybe the film should be titled, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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