• Email
  • Print

Torture in Three Countries

(The following statements were made at a conference sponsored by Amnesty International of the USA in New York on April 30. Those interested in Amnesty International’s work can write to 200 West 72nd Street, NYC 10023.)

VIETNAM

Don Luce

Don Luce spent thirteen years in Vietnam working for the International Voluntary Services and the World Council of Churches. He is the author of Vietnam: The Unheard Voices.

There are more than 200,000 political prisoners in the jails of the Saigon government. These prisoners include Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, teachers, writers, students, lawyers, laborers, and farmers. They include old people, women, children, and the sick.

Many of these people have been imprisoned for years without trial. Others were tried by a military court and sentenced under Article 2 of Decree Law 93/SL/Ct which states: “Any person who commits acts of propaganda for and incitement to neutralism shall be considered as Pro-Communist Neutralist.” Just prior to and right after the cease-fire agreement, the Saigon government reclassified many of these people, charging them with criminal offenses.

The Saigon government has routinely used torture. Some of the most common forms I know about from personal talks with Vietnamese who have undergone them and who visibly bear the effects of the mistreatment:

Water Torture: The nose is squeezed shut and a large quantity of soapy water is pumped into the victim’s stomach. Then the pressure is released from the nostrils, the mouth gagged and the water forced out through the nose by pounding the victim’s stomach. A variation of this is to use fish sauce which has a very high salt content.

Barrel Torture: The victim is put into a barrel of water and the barrel is pounded with a lead pipe. The whole body is affected by the blows, and damage to internal organs is common.

Chopstick Torture: A chopstick is placed in the ear and tapped lightly with the index finger of the torturer. This often causes deafness and sometimes death.

Bamboo Sliver Torture: Slivers of bamboo are forced under the fingernails. A variation of this is using a pin with a feather attached to the pin. An electric fan then rotates the pin.

Bottle Torture: Beer bottles or other objects are forced into the vaginas of women. The husband or another relative is often forced to watch this as a means of getting information from that person.

Electrode Torture: Electrodes are attached to sensitive parts of the body and shocks administered. Vietnamese skin is especially sensitive to this and two tiny white spots can be observed in the skin where the electrodes were attached.

Many Vietnamese have died as a result of torture. Nguyen Ngoc Phuong is one example. A third year university student, he was arrested with his wife, Cao thi Que Huong, an elementary school teacher. They operated a hostel for university students and the police were trying to get information about the student movement. Phuong was tortured in front of his wife to get information from her; she was tortured in front of him to get information from him. On April 11, 1970, Tin Sang (Morning News) newspaper reported: “His right leg was beaten to the point that it is now immobile. His wife, Cao thi Que Huong, was also beaten to the point where she could not walk unassisted. Secret police threatened to strip her naked and drag her off if he did not sign a statement.” Three years later, on January 5, 1973, Phuong died. Cao thi Que Huong is still in jail, but is reportedly in very bad physical condition.

The means to carry out this torture have been provided to the Saigon government by the United States economic aid program. US aid made it possible to increase the size of the Saigon government’s police force from 16,000 in 1963 to more than 120,000 today. Following the international outcry about the tiger cages in 1970, the Saigon government announced they were going to do away with the tiger cages. But two months later they ordered the Vietnamese political prisoners to build new ones as a self-help project. They refused and were shackled. Then on January 7, 1971, the US Department of Navy gave a $400,000 contract to Raymond, Morrison, Knudson-Brown, Root, and Jones to build 384 new “isolation cells” which are two square feet smaller than the former tiger cages.

THE SOVIET UNION

Alexander Esenin-Volpin

Alexander Esenin-Volpin, a Russian mathematician and poet, is now teaching mathematics at SUNY in Buffalo.

Torture is usually understood to be the use of physical violence on the body of a prisoner for the purpose of extracting from him written or oral information. But there are other and more sophisticated means of torture which should not be overlooked. The most effective and terrible torture may simply be the threat of such violence (on the prisoner himself or one he loves) or the prospect of an unending solitary confinement….

Now we read of torture in Greece, in both parts of Vietnam, in Northern Ireland, in Brazil, and in Africa. Only a few years ago, the use of torture by the French in Algeria was common knowledge. Torture is also applied in Turkey, Indonesia, and Iran. In the Soviet Union, though they try to avoid the use of torture in the conventional sense of the term, they replace it with scarcely better means.

I am more familiar with the Soviet Union than with other countries. I was born and lived in the Soviet Union for forty-eight years. I left only a year ago. Examples there of unjust sentences to long-term imprisonment under conditions of hunger, hard labor, cold, and the lack of medical care have been widely reported in the newspapers and literature of the world. But much of this information seems unbelievable to foreigners. I am here to testify that real injustice is involved and that the harshness and cruelty of this injustice cannot be exaggerated.

It must be understood that justice in the Soviet Union is such that, in cases of a political character, the defendant is deprived of any means to an effective defense. His legal arguments and those of his attorney are regularly ignored, especially when they consist in pointing out the lack of correspondence between the charges brought against him and the provisions of the criminal law. Even worse, a prerequisite for leniency in this situation is usually the giving of false information to aid in the official persecution of other persons.

If the accused is firm in his defense and thereby causes the prosecution visible difficulties, his case is transferred out of the criminal channel into the psychiatric one. The victim then ends up in a psychiatric hospital, held there in a condition of severe isolation until possible changes in the political situation may lead the authorities to permit his liberation. Since such changes in the political situation may never occur (and since the law sets no limit to a patient’s confinement), the threat of days, years, even a whole life passing in emptiness is a form of torture as keen as any.

My personal experience enables me to understand the character of this injustice. Against my will, I was confined to psychiatric hospitals five different times. My “crimes” which led to these incarcerations included: reciting poems of mine which were considered anti-Soviet; advising a French woman against accepting Soviet citizenship; failing to inform on an acquaintance who had allegedly engaged in treasonable activities; refusing to denounce the American publication of a book of my poetry; and applying for a visa to lecture at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

I have met or known of hundreds of individuals who were sane in the opinion of their relatives, friends, and colleagues, and yet who, for political reasons, were confined against their will in Soviet mental institutions. The conditions of confinement of these captives are known from the works of Vladimir Bukovsky and others. I testify here to the truth of these accounts.

Torture is an international menace. Though it may originate in a distant place, if we shut our eyes to it, it may easily spread and affect us. To know that torture exists somewhere and to remain silent is to encourage the torturers.

GREECE

Margaret Papandreou

Margaret Papandreou is the American-born wife of Andreas Papandreou and the author of Nightmare in Athens.

One reads the statements of victims of the Greek regime over the past six years, and it becomes a litany, voice after voice, in the courtroom, abroad after an escape, in smuggled handwritten documents from prison…. “I went under horrible tortures. For more details I invite you to the Military Headquarters.” …”Write that I killed my mother. But let me sleep.” …”Our lives were hell there.” …”My client retracts his confession and deposition which were made under torture.” …”I was taken back for more and had three or four more falanga sessions until I passed out on the floor.” …”When someone gave the word, the machine was switched on and I started to feel excruciating pain.”

And from the other side, the barbarian side, the laughs, the insults, the arrogance, the contempt. “Behind me is the government, behind the government is NATO, behind NATO is the US. You can’t fight us, we are Americans.” …”You can fart on my buttocks.” …”Take it to the UN if you like. You might as well fart on my buttocks.” …”You can then go and tell everyone we tortured you. We want everyone to know. We want them to tremble, we want them to know that here in ESA [Military Security Headquarters] we torture.”

The Greek government is a government by torture. It is and has been an administrative policy from the very beginning. There are torture chambers in every corner of Greece—in Crete, in Agrinio, in Patras, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Komotini, as well as key centers in Athens and Piraeus. The techniques are quite standard by now, starting with the initial torture of falanga, where the soles of the feet are beaten with a stick or pipe. This is generally accompanied by additional beating by five or six men, banging of the head on a bench or wall, hits on the sternum. Other types of physical torture are burning with a cigarette or hot iron; hanging, often from handcuffed hands behind the back; sexually oriented tortures, including jamming of objects up the vagina; chemical agents (detergent in the victim’s eyes, or chlorine for drinks); burial up to the neck; and electroshock. Nonphysical methods include noise, nakedness, hearing others being tortured, bright lights over a long period of time, and writing of declarations of support for the junta, the latter a complete robbing of a man’s self-respect and dignity.

The names of torturers number in the hundreds. All seem to have been given some training in techniques of torture, based on the fact of similarity of techniques throughout Greece, and with the minimum proviso that the technique used leave no long-lasting physical signs. Thus the popularity of falanga, which, except in the case of a broken bone that doesn’t set properly, is exceedingly painful, but leaves no visible marks. There is growing evidence, however, that electroshock, initially administered by doctors at the 401 Military hospital, has been taken over by a group of young soldiers who have their own chambers in ESA; when other techniques fail, the victim is turned over to them for the ultimate method.

All of these practices get a form of sanction by the frequent visits of American officialdom. A bomb that went off in the park outside the office of the prime minister at the parliament building when Melvin Laird was in conference with Papadopoulos had as its meaning, according to Koronaios, who admitted placing the bomb, to draw the attention of the world to the fact that Greeks consider the Americans responsible for keeping them enslaved, and for allowing an SS type mentality to exist in their country.

And the torture continues. Six lawyers, four of whom defended students in a trial arising out of recent rebellions, have been held for over six weeks incommunicado in ESA. They managed to get out a plea for help to Amnesty International in which they described inhuman tortures. Three men sent there by three organizations involved in human rights were not permitted to see them, nor get information on the charges, nor see anyone of authority in the junta regime. At this moment, they, or others who have succeeded them, are being tortured. We, as Americans, bear a particularly heavy responsibility for this in Greece.

  • Email
  • Print