Trying to Process This…

I am still not feeling well, so I decided to stay home and be ill in comfort.

World of Warcraft if off-line for maintenance so I logged in and started hopping around blogs. I saw an interesting post on the wordpress news department and I ended up in a priest’s blog called Glory to God in All Things. I found his post with a link to an article by Fredrica Mathewes-Green. The article, The Wounded Torturer, is shattering.

In her essay, published in the Review of Faith and International Affairs; Summer 2007, Ms. Mathewes-Green talked about the survivors of an experiment in Romania, called the “Pitesti Experiment”—the most intensive program of brainwashing to take place behind the Iron Curtain. In particular she spoke with Father Roman Braga and Fr. George Calciu , both survivors of Pitesti “You had to go somewhere; you had to find an inner perspective,” he said, “because otherwise you would truly go crazy.”

Neither man would describe what they’d endured. “It is secret, intimate,” Fr. Roman said, “I saw saints fall, and I saw the simple rise and become saints.” Fr. George admitted that he gave way under torture. When a victim is out of his mind with pain, he doesn’t know what he is saying. Fr. George told his interviewer, “It was a spiritual fight, between good spirits and evil spirits. And we failed on the field of battle; we failed, many of us, because it was beyond our ability to resist … The limit of the human soul’s resistance was tried there by the devil.”

This emotional and spiritual damage was even worse than the physical pain. Fr. George went on, “When you were tortured, after one or two hours of suffering, the pain would not be so strong. But after denying God and knowing yourself to be a blasphemer—that was the pain that lasted … We forgive the torturers. But it is very difficult to forgive ourselves.” At night a wash of tears would come, and with it, returning prayer. “You knew very well that the next day you would again say something against God. But a few moments in the night, when you started to cry and to pray to God to forgive you and help you, was very good.”

Fr. George once attempted to write a memoir of his Pitesti experience, but found it impossible: “Sometimes I was hammering at one word, timidly, then persistently, then intensely, to madness. The word became nothing other than a sequence of letters or sounds. It had no meaning. It didn’t tell me anything. I would say: ‘beating’ or ‘pain’ or ‘prayer’ or ‘curse’ … and I would substitute one for another without any change; none told me anything! I would say ‘cell’ and the word would not speak. I could say instead ‘lelc’ or ‘clel’ or ‘ellc’ with the same result. Everything was mute and absurd.

When I read this passage it made me think about my sister. She wrote an honors thesis in college, which discussed the role of silence in holocaust literature. I have never read her thesis and now I know I need to.

Fr. George stated that at the point they were required to torture fellow prisoners that many of them attempted or committed suicide. Ms. Mathewes-Green states, “It may sound surprising that being a torturer was so much more painful and soul-destroying than being a victim.” I had to reread that line several times. I am still not sure I’ve processed it.

Where am I going with all of this?

I think most Americans were horrified at the images we saw at Abu Gahriab. I am glad those involved were court martialed. They dishonored their country, themselves, and the US military.

I believe (beyond all of the spiritual implications and considerations), that people who use violence/torture to obtain information from a prisoner are ineffective because most people will say what you want to hear in order to make the pain stop. Perhaps I am naive?

Reading this article made me wonder how will the interrogators involved with GITMO or other similar facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan will fare when they return home. It made me wonder if the government will even realize the damage they’ve inflicted on the interrogators in the current conflicts.

I hope and pray that the Veterans Administration is prepared for them. I believe what they are doing is necessary, but I doubt many people will really understand what they job they’ve been asked to do will cost them in terms of pain, grief, and agony.

6 responses to “Trying to Process This…

  1. The tags on this post are interesting “torture – war – art – life”. Feeling a bit down lately?

    I read an interesting quote from Sean Penn lately who, when asked if he wanted the US to lose in Iraq, answered “I think we’re past that point in human evolution where there’s such a thing as winning wars.”

  2. Hi Bill,
    Not really down, I’ve been sick for the last two days.
    I will be fly9ing to your neck of the woods for the weekend and then head back to the east coast on sunday. It’s going to be a pretty quick trip.

    I am hoping to get a chance to hit the Portland Art Museum while I am there. But who knows how the weekend will go.

  3. “that people who use violence/torture to obtain information from a prisoner are ineffective because most people will say what you want to hear in order to make the pain stop”. It seems the same to me.

  4. I honestly don’t know if I have a digital copy of my thesis. I read it at the Undergraduate Honors Conference in Purdue though, so they might have it. I’ll dig around and see if I have a print copy somewhere.

  5. I was just at the Portland Art Museum last night and saw the Age of Rembrandt show. I recommend it.

  6. My trip was squished into 2 days. Is that the show that was in Phoenix in February? From the descriptioni it looks like the one I saw in Arizonia over President’s day

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