An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century

Ruxandra Cesereanu


The present essay focuses on political torture during the twentieth century. It takes a multidisciplinary approach, because it entails insights from history, politics, ideology, anthropology, psychology and literature. The aim of the present essay is to discuss the relation between "Classical" torture (in the past centuries) and "Modern" torture (in the twentieth century), analyzing the phenomena in a comparative perspective and paying attention to the hidden and unconscious motives behind historical facts. What I am interested in is the mechanism by which, in the twentieth century, torture has been reintroduced particularly for political prisoners - that means torture for ideas and conscience, torture as a technique of power and not merely as a technique of punishment. What torture destroys first is the dignity and privacy of the victim; only then does it destroy the victim's freedom and integrity. For this reason, every torture is an act of rape, even a symbolic one. I mean this in psychological terms, not as a demonstration of feminist vocabulary. Every touching of the victim's body is rape, emphasizing the "virility" of the torturer. First of all, the torturer wants to become a master of his victim's body, and only later, a master of the tortured person's mind. I include imagination in the concept of torture, imagination being one of the tools of the act of torturing. In torture, imagination becomes, in my demonstration, a never-ending weapon.


torture, political prisoners, technique of punishment, destruction of freedom, destruction of integrity, destruction of dignity, rape, imagination of the torturer, brainwashing

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