The International Writers Magazine: Torture
THE THRESHOLD OF TERROR
into my essay with two examples of literary horror. The first extract
goes something like this:
"Commander Fernandez, sucking at his tenth cigarette continued
to pace about the darkened room. A solitary extendable lamp was lit
just above the prisoner. He was naked and strapped by his neck, arms
and legs to a purpose built chair, raised on a plinth about two feet
above the ground. Two marines stood by on either side. The prisoner
was barely conscious yet showed no signs of bruising. He had two steel
needles, three inches long, plunged into his chest just below each nipple.
Ok, once again. Why Forrester? said Fernandez, standing
in the dark about three feet away. Why was he singled out?
The prisoner remained silent. Fernandez moved into the light and nodded
at the marines. Each one took hold of a needle. They slowly revolved
them, scrapping against the prisoners ribcage."
My second example differs in physical abuse but is equally repulsive.
"At over six thousand feet, a hundred miles east of Bahia Blanca
and after two hours flying time, the old Dakota started its descent.
The airplane began to shudder as the pilot reduced speed to an almost
gliding pace. The roar of the powerful engines in reverse thrust deafened
even the very drowsy. A cool gust of air entered the cabin as the rear
exit door was opened. Sergio, barely conscious, felt cold. His mind
started to wander through endless scenes of surreal thoughts. Flashes
of red explosions coupled with calm stills of small mice being dissected
kept flowing through his brain. The mice grew smaller and smaller and
the flashes turned into a dark blue pattern of cubes coming at him at
increasing velocity. He heard a soft voice uttering a single climatic
cry, God! His agony was over as his convulsed body hit the
freezing dampness of the Atlantic Ocean."
Is this the prose of a warped writer? Or could it be part of a report
by a sadistic journalist during some forgotten war in Latin America?
It is a bit of both. These are passages from my forthcoming novel on
the Falkland Islands war between Argentina and the United Kingdom
in 1982. It demonstrates how most of us humans have the ability to think
and design methods of hurting our fellow beings. However, in moving
from fiction to action lies a difference between rational deliberation
and insanity. We can all conjure up infinite ways of torturing a living
creature or sustain hours of exposure to brutal scenes of inflicted
pain in books or on the screen without batting an eyelid. It is part
of our every day life. Yet between visualizing or thinking about an
act of barbarity and actually conducting one is a gulf as wide as the
ocean. Or is it?
Torture has been around for centuries and was even a common legal practice
in many ancient civilizations. Early Roman laws were influenced by the
information obtained through the torturing of slaves thus adding validity
to their testimonies in court. From the mid XIV century to the end of
the XVIII century torture was a common and sanctioned part of the legal
proceedings of most European countries. The Catholic Church took advantage
of the situation and approved its use in cases of heresy entering the
history books as part of the infamous period of the Inquisition. Whilst
many prominent historical personages such as Aristotle and Sir Francis
Bacon condoned the practice, others came to the fore and condemned it
outright. In the European Middle Ages, St. Augustine pointed out its
moral perversity. His famous quote is a symbol to all defenders of international
human rights. I quote: Torture forces even the innocent to lie.
How about all the different methods of abuse that have been around for
years? We have the old fashion rack, an instrument that stretched the
limbs and body of a suspect, as well as the thumbscrew, a metal-studded
vice in which the thumbs of the unfortunate being were compressed until
he squealed. Moving on towards the XIX century when electricity was
invented, all sorts of diabolical instruments and methods were designed
that are still in practice today. Short and sharp bursts of high voltage
currents attached to any part of the body you can think of has been
used over and over again by umpteen numbers of organisations throughout
the world to assault, humiliate and denigrate their fellow humans. Modern
techniques now include the sophisticated use of psychological and pharmacological
methods conducted thanks to medical research into the psychology of
pain. Would you believe it!
No need to dig into the recent past during WWII and the Cold War to
expose the horrors committed by the unmentionable monsters in Germany
and the U.S.S.R. They already fill most libraries throughout the world.
Despite the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in 1948, revelations of widespread practice of torture such as in French
Algeria and Greece during the 1950s are only a glimpse at how
it continues to be adaptable to many cultures in the learly 21st century
as a form of vindictive action against aliens. Although torture has
been universally condemned, it is still widely practiced in many regions,
including Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
So why all the fuss about the recent atrocities committed by American
soldiers in Iraq in the infamous prisoner-of-war camp in Abu Ghraib?
The answer is in human nature itself. The belief that only sadistic
individuals are capable of committing torture was questioned if not
disproved by a group of, ironically US scientist way back in the 1960s.
A group of volunteers made up of ordinary people from all walks of life
were told to administer a sort of memory test to a victim.
The actual suspect was an actor strapped down and attached to an electrode
that had no electricity connected to it. When ordered to increase the
false voltage, the majority of volunteers continued
to administer what they thought were serious levels of electric shock
despite the screams and protests of the actor-victim. What
does this prove? That under certain circumstances and unusual situations
of pressure, some, if not most human beings can turn into outright monsters
and inflict torture on others without batting an eyelid. Such must have
been the case of the American guards in Iraq whose photographs of them
and their victims were screened around the world. Does this exonerate
Heavens no! They are as guilty as sin. But then so is Saddam Hussein,
and George Bush, and Tony Blair, and Bin Laden, and Mr. Chips, and Goldilocks
and the three bears, and
I remember an old saying my father used to quote. All the world
is a little queer. Saving thee and me. And even thee is a little queer!
Authors note: Queer means strange and not the other.
© James Skinner. June 2004.
30 years of freedom
all rights reserved