The Totality of Torture: Possession of the Voice

"Through his ability to project words and sounds out into his environment, a human being inhabits, humanizes, and makes his own a space much larger than that occupied by his body alone. This space, always contracted under repressive regimes, is in torture almost wholly eliminated. The “it” in “Get it out of him” refers not just to a piece of information but to the capacity for speech itself. The written or tape-recorded confession that can be carried away on a piece of paper or on a tape is only the most concrete exhibition of the torturer’s attempt to induce sounds so that they can then be broken off from their speaker so that they can then be taken off and made the property of the regime. The torturer tries to make his own not only the words of the prisoner’s confession but all his words and sounds. One form of stress imposed on Portuguese prisoners was making them speak in a constant loud volume to other prisoners. In Greece, a similar rule was extended to nonverbal forms of sound: “[The officer] was not satisfied with my answer and hit me again.… Here the guard ordered me to walk so that my steps would be heard. He said I was to walk on the double.” He will, while being hurt, be made to speak, to sing, and, of course, to scream— and even those screams, the sounds anterior to language that a human being reverts to when overwhelmed by pain, will in turn be broken off and made the property of the torturers …"

–The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Elaine Scarry. III. The Transformation of Body Into Voice.