"One might logically assume that I knew it all, knew what a political prisoner was, how he suffered in jail, the things a tortured man felt. But I knew nothing. And its impossible to convey what I now know.
In the long months of confinement, I often thought of how to transmit the pain that a tortured person undergoes. And always I concluded that it was impossible.
It is pain without point of reference, revelatory symbols or clues to serve as indicators.
A man is shunted so quickly from one world to another that he’s unable to tap a reserve of energy so as to confront this unbridled violence. That is the first phase of torture: to take a man by surprise, without allowing him any reflex defense, even psychological. A man’s hands are shackled behind him, his eyes blindfolded. No one says a word. Blows are showered upon him. He’s placed on the ground and someone counts to en, but he’s not killed. A man is then led to what may be a canvas bed, or a table, striped, doused with water, tied to the ends of the bed or table, arms outstretched. And the application of electric shock begins. The amount of electricity transmitted by the electrodes - or whatever they’re called - is regulated so that it merely hurts, or burns, or destroys. It’s impossible to shout - you howl. At the onset of this long human howl, someone with soft hands supervises your heart, someone sticks his hand into your mouth and pulls your tongue out of it in order to prevent this man from choking. Someone places a piece of rubber in the man’s mouth to prevent him from biting his tongue or destroying his lips. A brief pause. And then it starts all over again. With insults this time. A brief pause. And then questions. A brief pause. And then words of hope. A brief pause. And then questions.
What does this man feel? The only thing that comes to mind is" They’re ripping apart my flesh. But they didn’t rip apart my flesh. Yes, I know that now. They didn’t even leave marks. But I felt as though they were tearing my flesh. And what else? Nothing that I can think of. No other sensation? Not at that moment. But did they beat you? Yes, but it didn’t hurt.
When electric shocks are applied, all that a man feels is that they’re ripping apart his flesh. And he howls. Afterwards, he doesn’t feel the blows."
The first thing to notice is that throughout this passage the point of view - first person, second, third - shifts continuously. This reflects, I suspect, Timmerman's view that a political culture that sanctions torture will find it difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate those who 'justifiably' can be tortured from those who cannot.
The second thing is that torture renders one - you, he, I - speechless; a howl, a scream induced by extreme pain subverts communication and destroys language (as Elaine Scarry argues so persuasively in The Body in Pain). What we will get via torture is not "information," much less "intelligence" - even when we use it on "high-value" detainees. (And Timmerman might well be describing precisely what happens when American take terror suspects prisoner. Compare his description with the one Mark Bowden offers in his ethically and politically equivocal essay "The Dark Art of Interrogation," The Atlantic Monthly, October 2003.) What we will get is howls and screams from prisoners who will say anything, implicate anyone, to try to satisfy our agents in hopes, thereby, of getting those agents to stop torturing them. And, as I have noted before, what we will get - and here I mean "we," you and I, American citizens - is well-deserved complicity and responsibility. These are our torturers - yours and mine.