PRIVATE PAIN AND PUBLIC DISPLAY: TORTURE
Governments have refined techniques over the centuries for deliberately inflicting pain. The victim is in a unique situation quite unlike that of any injury or disease because he is helpless and there will be no help. If the torture is part of an interrogation, the only way to end the pain is to tell the interrogator what he wants to hear or, more likely, to invent false yet plausible information. A few victims may have the skill to dissociate themselves from the present and to enter a fantasized world. The vast majority react in the predicted way and search only for ways to end the torture. Where the torturer is a sadist or has the intention to terrorize the population at large, the victim loses even the option that confession will stop the torture.
Christopher Buney wrote of his own interrogation in a German prison:
Suddenly the major turned and strode across the room and struck me in the face with a swing of his open hand. I knew now what was to come. The first impact still took me by surprise. There is a sense of shame following an unanswerable blow which has nothing of fear in it but which is more demoralizing than any pain.
To experience helplessness in the face of impending death wipes out confidence. The horror of this state becomes primary beyond the misery of the pain. A South African doctor conscripted into the army describes being presented with Namibian prisoners under torture and being ordered to treat them so that interrogation could continue. He gave morphine to ease their pain. I believe this compounds the atrocity. I do not believe that it was ethically permissable for the doctor to relieve pain where the consequence was that violent beating would continue to the point of threatening the prisoner's life.
Individuality can be demolished without pain. In the early 1970s, the British Army in Northern Ireland introduced a new high-tech method of interrogation without pain. Arrested men were made to lean at 45 degrees, supported by their handcuffed hands on a wall. A bag was placed over their heads so they could see nothing. Intense noise from loudspeakers prevented hearing. If they collapsed, they were propped up again. At irregular intervals, they were taken out and interrogated but were otherwise left in their unmoving posture of sensory isolation for days. When these men were examined long after their release, many remained broken zombies, apathetic, tremulous and unable to function. Primo Levi wrote of his experience in Auschwitz: 'Anyone who has been tortured, remains tortured'. The British government set up a judicial committee, the Gardner Commission, to investigate torture and the practice was forbidden. For many of us, the fear of our manner of dying is much greater than our fear of death itself.