Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Five books about torture

Juan E. Méndez is a visiting professor of law at the American University, Washington College of Law, and the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. A native of Argentina, Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. As a result of his involvement in representing political prisoners, the Argentinean military dictatorship arrested him and subjected him to torture and administrative detention for more than a year.

At The Browser, he discussed five books on torture with Daisy Banks, including:
Death and the Maiden
by Ariel Dorfman

Let’s move across the border to neighbouring Chile with Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, which touches on some of the long-term effects torture has on people.

I would also say that the reason I selected it is because the play addresses the dilemma of what you do to the torturer and what the torture victim is entitled to when the nightmare of the torture-based regime is over and a state is trying to reorganise itself along democratic and more humane lines. I think the play shows very starkly that kind of dilemma that societies experience.

For those who don’t know the play, it is about a Chilean woman, Paulina, who meets someone through her husband whose voice she recognises as her torturer.

That is right and her husband is a human rights lawyer who is completely devoted to the rule of law. By chance they meet her torturer and she has to decide whether she is going to kill him or subject him to the same type of thing that she got put through, or whether she will let justice run its course.

I think the three characters are perhaps a little too roughly drawn because many of us have at least the lawyer and the victim in one’s self. But I think for dramatic purposes it is a very interesting description of the dilemma. And most importantly, that dilemma is a difficult choice that the society has to make, not just the moral choice of some individuals.

From your experience of looking at different countries what do you think should happen to the torturers and their victims?

I think the victims have a right to a remedy from the democratic state. That remedy includes the investigation and prosecution of the torturer.

No matter how long ago the events took place?

No matter how long, no matter what it may take. But, of course, the investigation and prosecution of the torturer has to proceed along democratic lines as well. He cannot be mistreated (and the torturer is almost always a he, unfortunately). He has to be given all of the guarantees and dignity that he has denied his victims.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue