Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Suffering Must Not Be Anonymous

We are blogging against torture. Why? Because torture is barbaric and cruel, and has no place in a modern, civilised society.

I thought it was important to put some names to the agony, to make it a little bit personal, to help us understand more exactly what it is we are fighting against.

As a previous Blogathon post has noted, it is only be dehumanising the victims are we able to allow the practice to go on. It is therefore of critical importance that we do not allow this to happen. We must not let the suffering of people become mere stats on a chart.

Carlos Mauricio used to be a professor in El Salvador, before he was abducted and tortured by the deaths squads 22 years ago. He was hidden from the ICRC, taken “underground to a clandestine torture chambers”, where he suffered “two broken ribs from one of the beatings, and a damaged eye”.

Olga Talamante was a 24 year-old student when she was kidnapped in Argentina during martial law. “In my secret torture chamber — later it was confirmed to have been within the walls of the local police station — a slight turn of my head could bring on a new barrage of insults and fists...They took me to another room. I sensed several new people. I heard men's voices. They untied my hands and feet. They ordered me to take my clothes off. I hesitated, and they made it clear that it was not a request but a demand. Now naked except for the tape over my eyes, I felt hands sit me down on a bed and then push me back, spreading my arms and legs, tying them at each corner. If I know where I am, I can survive? The thought was less convincing. Electric currents were applied to the most sensitive parts of my body. All I could do was scream”.

Tito Tricot is a torture survivor in Chile. “No one can really understand what being tortured means until that fateful moment when you find yourself naked, blindfolded and tied up at the mercy of your captors. Your entire life is confined to that fragile moment when darkness becomes your enemy; yet at the same time the dark is your only ally, a refuge from madness. There is neither past nor future, only the present of screams, fury and impotence when you find yourself defenceless at the mercy of the torturer's rage and coldness. You never know when he is going to hit, shout, kick, hang, electrocute or kill you...The horror of the torture chamber will never go away, the military did not only torture individuals, but also the very soul of our nation. They did not only torture somebody for a few hours or a few days, they destroyed their life forever.”

The terrible thing about torture is that it sticks with you. It doesn't just happen and then it's over – people's lives are ruined by it.

Maher Arar was detained at JFK Airport in 2002. He was jailed, and then secretly transported to Syria, where he was held for a year without charge or trial in an underground cell, where he was tortured.

“Well, the false confession was, frankly, at the beginning. They wanted me to say that I’ve been to Afghanistan, which I ended up saying anyway. But what I’m referring to here, even by -- after ten months of that psychological torture, if they asked me to sign another false confession, and they told me, “Listen, if you sign this, we will take you to a different place where you could live as a human being,” I would have signed anything...You know, I’m completely a different person. I still have fears. I don't take the plane anymore. I don't fly. I lost confidence in myself. I feel overwhelmed. My -- there is some kind of emotional distancing between me and my kids and my family. They ruined my life. They ruined my life, and I have not been able to find a job. People try to – you know, some people I know, they try to distance themselves from me. It's -- you know, I don't know how to describe it. I don't think there is any word I could use to describe what I am going through. And I thought when I came back it would take me a month or two months or a year or two years to get back to normal life. It has been two years and four months since I came back to Canada, and there are things that are improved a little bit, but I’m still not the same person, and I’m still suffering psychologically.”

The following is a detailed account of the hideous torture one young woman had to suffer in Bosnia. She was treated afterwards in the United States. This is what the US should be doing in the world – using its power to help people, with compassion and understanding, not committing torture themselves (you will note that in most of the above cases, the US was involved on the side of the torturer).

Fatima is a 44-year-old Bosnian female [.PDF]. She had arrived in the United States with refugee status after living in Germany for eight years with her husband and children. She presented with multiple physical and psychological symptoms. While in Bosnia, she was targeted as a Muslim woman by Muslim soldiers, due to her marriage to a Serbian. Fatima explained that her town had been subjected to several surprise visits by soldiers, and that her neighbours had been taken, beaten, raped and imprisoned for days at a time. Individuals living in mixed marriages, Muslim and Serbian, were targeted repeatedly, she explained. This caused a heightened arousal and fear among those individuals living within her community. One night, Fatima and her husband were awakened by soldiers who ordered them at gun-point to get dressed and follow them. The soldiers separated the couple. She explained that after her abduction, she was plagued with concern for her family’s safety. She was taken to a school gymnasium that had been converted into a temporary camp that housed many other women of varying ages. She was held captive for 20 days, during which time her concern for her family grew. She was given very little food or water and reported being beaten repeatedly. While imprisoned, she witnessed nearly every woman being dragged into areas of the room, and repeatedly raped and beaten by groups of soldiers. She painfully explained that she, too, had been victimised by five to six groups of men repeatedly during her imprisonment.

The effects of violence were heightened as she felt betrayed by her own religious brothers. She stated that she was being punished for the person whom she had fallen in love with. It was very difficult for Fatima to discuss her past trauma. She became overwhelmed with emotion as she described the most horrific violation that she had experienced. One night, a group of soldiers randomly selected her as their victim and began their sexual assault. During this violation, she became aware that something was different about this night. The circumstances of the assault
quickly began to change. The soldiers who were attacking her began to hold her down and a new pain was introduced. As she looked down, the soldiers had begun tattooing and scarring parts of her body. She felt that these soldiers had decided that the pain and humiliation of rape alone would not be enough, and they wanted her to suffer as much indignity as possible by placing a physical reminder of this ordeal on her body. By placing their Muslim names on her body, they scarred and marked her, proving to her community that this could happen to anyone. They continued to beat, rape and tattoo her throughout that night. In the morning, when she looked at her breasts, arms and shoulders, she saw the names of the soldiers who had attacked her, forever embedded in her skin.”

So there you have it. Whenever you hear anyone advocating torture, this is what they mean. Either they don't know anything about torture or they are simply indifferent to human suffering.

[Cross-posted at The Heathlander]


Blogger Barbara said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you are all doing a wonderful thing. These things need to be said, and I really respect that you are speaking up and saying them.

Keep up the good work - only five hours left. I have faith in you!

1:27 AM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

Heathlander, powerful post. Very powerful post. Torture to the apologists is faceless. Let them contend with the faces of the tortured. Then let them advocate torture; they will only expose their own barbarism.

1:30 AM  
Blogger The Heathlander said...

cheers barbs, you've been excellent monitor.

doc - thankee. It's always easier tp behave cruelly to faceless unpeople. Giving these victims faces and names and families and stories also makes them human, and it is then much harder to make them suffer.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

barbara, Heathlander is on some concoction of dried coffee powder and diet coke, I think. I look forward to his last post :)

1:38 AM  
Blogger The Heathlander said...


Yep - that and unsalted pistachio nuts. I'm now going through that annoying stage where you've eaten almost all of the nuts, and you've been placing the empty shells back in the bowl, so now to find a nut takes 5 minutes of rummaging. I wonder what they call that...

1:41 AM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

Heathlander, do you have the two additional posts. If not, I can give you an additional short post that I can post after my 2am one, say at 2:15am.

1:47 AM  
Blogger The Heathlander said...

I have two poems from Per and one link from Ingrid.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

cool, didnt want you to get caught holding the bag. I am crashing after my 2 am post.

1:50 AM  
Blogger The Heathlander said...

lucky :)

Hope you're going out with bang!

1:52 AM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

It's my longest post of the day. My posts usually tend toward analysis, however, today I've tried to tell some personal stories. This one is one such story.

1:55 AM  
Blogger The Heathlander said...

Ah good, sounds interesting. Minutes going so slowly recently...

2:02 AM  
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12:31 AM  

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