My public theology class discussed the topic of torture this week. We'll be returning to it several times this fall. The discussion ventured into many areas, but a recurring point was the lasting effects of torture - upon the tortured, and upon the torturer. Does one who is tortured stay tortured? How does torture change the torturer? Where is the place of grace in all of this?
Some things others have said on the topic. Catching up from a hotel room (attending a conference on human trafficking this weekend), I ran across the following links which seemed particularly relevant:
Chilean President Bachelet visits site of her own torture. In her comments, she reads as a witness to survival. How does President Bachelet's story speak to you? What other witnesses to survival would you lift up?
Russian journalist's unfinished torture article published (posthumously). Speaking of witnesses...Anna Politkovskaya’s work on exposing kidnapping and torture in Chechnya likely got her killed. More background here. Among her many awards was the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. I've been looking for a link to Ms. Politkovskaya's article itself, but have been unsuccessful. If anyone finds it, please pass it along.
Once Upon A Time In Guantanamo. A searing meditation on what is being done in our name. This piece has a power that reaches between the lines of the news stories and grabs you by the throat. We are systematically stripping away so much...from those held in these places, from those who are the immediate agents of pain, from ourselves...
Closing thoughts. In a post-class comment, a classmate brought up the idea of grace. Grace and torture - they seem like strange bedfellows. But it is grace that allows us to see Anna Politkovskaya and the disappeared as our neighbor. It is certainly grace that helps us entertain the thought of torturers as persons who are themselves in torment, who are neighbors in need of our love. In 'Letters and Papers from Prison', Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
There remains an experience of incomparable value . . . to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled ---- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer . . . to look with new eyes on matters great and small.
...What will happen when this sorry period in our history comes to a close? Will these torturers be reviled and outcast? Pariahs? Do they - will they - suffer? Can we look with new eyes, and see both the tortured and the torturer as our neighbor? And how can we hold them both in our prayers?
In separateness lies the world's great misery; in compassion lies the world's true strength.