Does torture work? Can foul means prevent a fouler catastrophe and thus redeem themselves by producing a greater good? Of course not, but those in power need discussions like this to continue, to give them a fig-leaf of official respectability. Consider this testimony by Ana Valdes.
I have been following with attention and curiosity the discussion about torture, if torture works, how it works, and why we are still using it, despite our declaration that we live in a civilized world. As one who has been tortured, I can say, yes, torture works, not because of the pain inflicted, or the feeling of loneliness and despair, but because torture acts at a level of consciousness we seldom have access to.
I was 19 years old when I was tortured, in Uruguay, at that time one of South America’s most ‘exemplary’ countries, with a long tradition of democracy and legality. Uruguay, a country with a small army and without any military conscription, demanded several CIA agents to train its military in torture and pressure. The agent who trained my countrymen in torture was the American Dan Mitrione. He was executed by guerrillas in 1971. Afterwards, a swarm of agents came to our country to ‘take the reins’, vindicate Mitrione, and dismantle the guerrilla force.
We were tortured by people we knew. I was raised in a family with several members in the military. I was beaten and tortured by friends of my uncles and my cousins.
Some years ago, I went to church in Spain and confessed (I am a freelance Catholic, I accept some aspects of the Church and its doctrine, but about others I am critical or skeptical). I didn’t know the priest was a member of Opus Dei, the Catholic right-wing sect who supported Franco and Pinochet. He asked me why I have not been in confession for so many years, so I told him briefly about my four years in jail, and my exile in Sweden. He asked me how I felt about the men who interrogated me. I was a bit struck by his question … up until that time, I had not given them much thought. Yet he insisted, and so I said “Today, I am not sure how I feel. I can accept that many of them believed they were right, and that torture or pressure were only methods to gather information, but …” He interrupted me and said: “But you should love the people who tortured you. They did it to save your immortal soul. If you died under torture, you should go directly to heaven. They were good Catholics, and only wanted to save you from the devil, and from Marxism.” Torture is still in my body as a memory and as a trace. It’s still a challenge for me to discover the reasons why friends of my uncles, and good Catholics, could torture and kill, and still go to church on Sundays. (1)
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I have never read a more succinct justification for abandoning religion. The falsity of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and all other denominational “higher power” cults is vividly expressed right here: “But you should love the people who tortured you. They did it to save your immortal soul. If you died under torture, you should go directly to heaven. They were good Catholics, and only wanted to save you from the devil, and from Marxism.”
Thus, love Tomas de Torquemada and the Inquisition; love the Falangist and Franco’s death camps; love Himmler, the German SS and the Nazi officials running the death-camp nation of Poland — most “good Catholics” and “good Lutherans”; love the CIA-backed Latin American fascists (see the Costa Gavras’ film on Dan Mitrione, “State of Siege”); love Pinochet (see Costa Gavras’ film “Missing”); love the Salvadoran and Guatemalan Armies, especially after dark when they prowled as death squads; love the CIA-proxy Nicaraguan Contras who targeted rural school teachers and doctors for torture and death; love the US “interrogators” in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other shadowy locations; they are all good Catholics, or Episcopalians, or Methodists (like Bush and Cheney), or Baptists, or “Christians” of one kind or another, who go to churches, sing hymns and spout pieties of a “superior god” they share with Jews, a god deemed likely to win against the inferior god of the devilishly heathen Muslims, who yet seem capable of finding the exact same divine love and inspiration in their hearts to torture, shoot and behead other human beings whose presence on Earth they find offensive because they are “Shia” or “Sunni,” or worse yet a Christian convert who “renounced Islam,” or perhaps was a wife or daughter who was raped and now deserves stoning to preserve the male “honor” (as many Pakistani wives and daughters found out after the 1971 India-Pakistan war over Bangladeshi independence).
Yes indeed, with a Sky-God whose power on earth is mediated by a male hierarchy there is always an excess of fatal love for those who do not fit into the divinely attributed social structure, and our mullahs and inquisitors and South Dakota legislators and priests must exert full control over the frightening power of unrestrained woman, birthing, life and thought, or “all” will be lost to “the devil” and “Marxism.” Better YOU (never they) die and “go directly to heaven” — guaranteed even better than the lifetime of your car’s tires — than to upset this finely honed hierarchy of domination and denial. GOD IS MURDER.
Torture exists because some people are “better” than others by virtue of their power, which they invariably declare a right descending from a Divinity that favors them as Its agent, Its “disciple,” Its “servant.” They are merely “soldiers in the Army of Christ,” men who humbly submit to Allah and man His jihad, all to bring you into alignment — defined by your betters — with the “will of God.” Priests are the executioners of the human soul, the headsmen of human intellect, stunting and poisoning the growth of human potential. Camus describes how Catholic priests blessed the barrels of the rifles of Falangist firing squads executing Republican prisoners during Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the following dictatorship.
Objectively, there is no compelling reason why a person of any religious or non-religious view should be more or less likely to be a torturer. But, as one looks at the sweep of history it is clear that torture follows religion, because torture is cruelty practiced by fear and ignorance. As one moves to social groups more firmly based on the Enlightenment (post-Renaissance humanism and socialism) and Buddhism (as a philosophy and psychology more than a devotional religious practice and sectarian division) one moves away from the likelihood of torture. And don’t tell me about Communist torture until after you have read Camus’s book “The Rebel” and understand that Stalinism was just another man-made religion — as they all are.
We have Stalinism in the USA right now, just as they had it in Imperial Rome, just as they had in Pharaonic Egypt; we have become our own gods: Hail Pharaoh!, Hail Caesar!, Greetings Comrade Chairman!, I’m blessed to meet you Mister President! Our Church is the State, our leaders are our gods, we obey the divine will. Who can contend with that? Who can say our acts are not the implementation of Divine Good? That we have this power PROVES it is just, it is ordained, and we who implement it, who submit to it, are blessed, “saints” in rapture.
When torture “works,” we have reached the point of deep decay along a path of descent laid out by both Lord Acton and Euripides: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely;” “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” When torture “works” it is time to tear everything up and start over.
Leave the churches, the synagogues, the mosques and the patriot-church of government; real justice and real humanity are to be found outside them. Salvation is in seeking your full human potential in association with others similarly involved. Because there is no “higher power,” nor “purpose” nor “intelligent design” to the universe, life is “empty” as the Buddhists say; and this is “marvelous” because it means every life is of equal value, and the fulfillment of that life is to be found in what its individual chooses to fill it with. Isn’t this truly marvelous?, you are free to seek your fulfillment in your own manner, and it will have the same cosmic significance as any other life. Goodness is not a product of external control and compulsion — let alone torture — it is an outgrowth of the individual effort at fulfillment. We “make good” by “being good” in the same way we “make peace” by “being peace,” by being the living embodiment of “goodness” and “peace” to the experience of others. Our actions may be breast-feeding a baby, packing a school lunch, or devising an economic development plan for a nation.
Similarly, we can act out goodness by dismantling the churches, the religions, the governments, the corporations and the economics that torture humanity.
MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. is a physicist who studies fluid flow, electricity and energy. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Ana Valdes, posting to the International Justice Watch Discussion List, 25 March 2006