Torture is not an abstraction

Torture is not an abstraction

Torture is a contentious topic these days, although it’s often called by a euphemism: enhanced interrogation techniques.

It occurred to me, as I was reading “Arrested Voices: Resurrecting the Disappeared Writers of the Soviet Regime,” by Vitaly Shentalinsky, that we coddled Americans actually have no understanding, beyond the abstract, of the effects of torture. Here is an excerpt, from the book, of a letter written from prison by the brilliant Jewish theatrical director Vsevolod Meyerhold:

“I was made to lie face down and then beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine with a rubber strap…. For the next few days when those parts of my legs were covered with extensive internal hemmorhaging, they again beat the red-blue-and-yellow bruises … and the pain was so intense that it felt as if boiling hot water was being poured on these sensitive areas. I howled and wept from the pain…. Lying face down on the floor, I discovered that I could wriggle, twist, and squeal like a dog when its master whips it. One time my body was shaking so uncontrollably that the guard … asked: ‘Have you got malaria?'”

Though Meyerhold confessed (disliking Soviet literature, appreciating Western art, and being Jewish were undoubtedly his “crimes”), he was eventually killed. It’s likely he was grateful to die. It was a way out of being tortured.

Of course, that was in the Soviet Union. We don’t do such things – at least, that’s what we’ve been told.