An ex-interrogator talks about torture

14 May 2012

Danielle Celermajer
Danielle Celermajer: "Many think of torture as something evil people do, but again and again we see torture is committed by normal people in an environment where abhorrent behaviours are normalised."

In what promises to be a challenging Sydney Writers' Festival event, Danielle Celermajer, director of the University of Sydney's Torture Prevention and Human Rights programs, will be in conversation with Glenn Carle, a former CIA interrogator and the author of The Interrogator: A CIA agent's true story.

The session will pose the questions: how is it that our supposedly liberal democratic governments engage in torture? What does it say about our political culture that this is an acceptable way to fight terrorism?

"Many people think of torture as something evil people do - people who exist in a different universe and are contaminated with some type of metaphysical taint. But again and again we see torture is committed by normal people in an environment where abhorrent behaviours are normalised," said Celermajer.

"US citizens think of themselves as moral, upstanding, civilised people, but now we have a situation where there is a broad acceptance for torture committed by the United States military and CIA."

Her co-presenter at the event, Glenn Carle, is a strong critic of US government practice. He was a member of the CIA's Directorate of Operations for 23 years and worked in a number of posts on four continents. His last position was as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats, where his office was responsible for strategic analysis of terrorism, international organised crime and narcotics issues. He retired in March 2007.

"Glenn was horrified at the way torture came to be normalised in the CIA and accepted in a post-9/11 world," said Celermajer, an associate professor in sociology and director of two European Union-funded programs, one exploring more effective approaches to torture prevention, which focuses on the military and police in Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Celermajer says the discussion will focus on how cultures of violence develop.

"We will talk about his experiences as outlined in his book The Interrogator, but I want to tie the discussion back to questions that are directly relevant to Australians, such as how we have also imperceptibly created permissive environments for human rights violations to happen," she says.

"For example, the systematic violations against Indigenous people and against people who come to this country seeking asylum. Those violations are happening right under our noses - on our watch.

"How does it happen that we silently change our world and that we cannot see the violence committed in our name? We also consider ourselves ethical people, and if we looked at our own situation from the outside we would be saying 'oh my God, that's intolerable'."

Event details

What: Preventing Torture, part of the Sydney Writers Festival

When: 2.30 to 3.30pm, Friday 18 May

Where: Sydney Dance 2, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay


Cost: Free

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Contact: Kate Mayor

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