A Mother Tortured


Torture Awareness Month


This morning I attended a teach-in at the Georgetown University Law Center on Torture and Extraordinary Rendition. The panelists discussed the issue of torture, current torture cases, and pending legislation that will attempt to stop the Bush Administration from torturing. There were many legal, constitutional, and practical arguments put forth as to why torture should not be practiced. However, one argument stood out amongst all the rest. That argument was made by Nora Mislem – a woman, a mother, a torture survivor. In this post I want to tell you her story as best as I can convey with written words. Her story is her argument against torture.

Nora MislemNora Mislem is from Honduras. In the early 1980s she was amongst a group of leftist students in Honduras who went to the Salvadoran border to assist refugees fleeing El Salvador. During this time the Honduran government was running CIA backed death squads to crush and terrorize the opposition. The Reagan Administration, in its proxy war against Marxist guerrillas in Central America, was training and supporting ruthless regimes in Honduras and other neighboring countries. In Honduras, the most notorious acts of murder and torture were being carried out by a CIA trained unit called Battalion 316. In 1981 and again in 1982 Nora Mislem was kidnapped by men from Battalion 316.

Under the custody of Battalion 316, Nora Mislem suffered torture like countless other victims. I sat silent today in the auditorium as she recounted in Spanish what horrors her torturers inflicted upon her. Every once in a while she paused as her translator, Sister Maureen from Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, described in English the horrors we knew she had spoken in her native tongue. In the next few sentences I will recount what I heard. But when I write them they will sound to the reader like many other tales of torture I am sure you have heard about. However, when I heard them today from her they were neither banal nor distant. They were the words of a human being who had suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of monsters who continue to live among us.

Nora Mislem was tied up and hooded. She was handcuffed and tied with rubber tubing. She was told that her two-year-old son had been killed by the death squads in retaliation. She was told that soon her parents too would be killed. She was beaten. She was given electric shock all over her body including her genitals. A plastic bag was brought out. A machete was put to her head. She was told she was a dog. She was told her head would be cut off and put in the plastic bag for other dogs to eat. She was told that her genitals would be mutilated. She was repeatedly violated by her male torturers. Then without hope, she was released to live with the physical and emotional scars forever.

I asked her afterwards why she thinks she was tortured, what did her torturers hope to gain by torturing her? She said to me that she believes that she was tortured to instill fear and terror in the population. Others who dared to speak out against the government would face a similar fate. Her torture was an act of terrorism, not a method of interrogation. The purpose was to intimidate and humiliate. Ultimately she was tortured because the torturers had the freedom to torture without facing any consequences.

Nora Mislem’s story is not unique. Unfortunately she is one of many thousands of women, mothers, daughters, sisters and human beings around the world who carry the scars of torture with them every day of their lives. Her story is the story of torture. The Bush Administration has now made all Americans characters in the story of torture.

One of the participants at today’s teach-in made the point that the wrong discussion to have is whether torture as an interrogation technique works or not. That is irrelevant. Torture should not be allowed because it makes monsters of the torturers. When the Bush Administration decided that torture was acceptable, it dehumanized the Americans who are charged with practicing it. It dehumanized us as a people. In the 1980s the United States turned a blind eye when our allies practiced torture – today we have imported the practice and made it our own. Is this the nation we want to be?

Tomorrow, June 26th, has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture. There will be many events marking the day. After the events are over, many of us will move on with our lives. Occasionally we will rise in opposition to torture and hope our efforts will some day end this evil practice. In time Nora Mislem’s story will likely fade from our memories. However, for Mrs. Mislem and other survivors, torture is a lifelong tragedy. For her and for the thousands of others who continue to suffer torture we as a nation need to become human again. 

Events in Washington DC marking the 9th Annual U.N. International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture:

  • Beginning Monday, June 26th at 7 a.m., TASSC will hold a 24-hour Vigil in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC. Click here for the schedule. I plan on being there in the evening.
  • Amnesty International USA will lobby Congress tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to stop extraordinary rendition.
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8 Responses to A Mother Tortured

  1. Robbie says:

    Mash, thank you for this great report. That’s the problem with San Diego. We don’t get to do fun things like this in my laid-back city.

    You forgot to mention one thing…how many coffees did you pay for? :d

  2. Mash says:

    Robbie, I think I noticed one other person from Bloggers Against Torture by his name tag. But, I didnt get a chance to speak to him (I passed him in the men’s room!).

    So, no coffees bought 🙂 The turnout was pretty good. There were about 90 people in the audience. Some lawyers, professors, human rights activists, and bloggers.

    I was there until the lunch break. I did not attend the afternoon panels.

  3. Sadly too many of the groups will only be heard by those who don’t need to hear them. More important may be the publication of OATH BETRAYED by Dr. Stephen Miles on Tuesday. The story of the Bush Administration’s making doctors complicit in torture will hit home to many of us who have special debts to the medical profession and will see this as the evil perversion it was. (You for your daughter, me for my foot, that I would have lost were it not for a very good doctor.)

    If you are unaware of it, Andrew Sullivan reviews it here:

  4. TedB says:


    What I find sadest of all about this post was the truth about Mrs. Mislem being forgotten. The most troubleing reason is that she will be replaced by the next and then the next and sadly so on.

    When we as a people forget who we are and are insulated from reality, we allow those who represent us to perpetrate these crimes in the name of (fill in your own platitude).

    Thanks for attending this event and sharing your impressions with us.

  5. Ingrid says:

    Mash, I saw Lewis Black last night and aside from the fact that he was hilarious at times, he kept doing his ‘pulling his hair and going crazy thing’ saying..time and time again after noting idiotic things of our government “I can’t keep up with this stuff, I am not making this up”!! He was chiding Republicans and Democrats alike (Red White and Screwed) and of course, he went for the religious part of the likes or Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell..all those literalist types supporting Bush..chiding them and their ilk for interpreting the Old Testament saying the world was created in 7 days. He said “unbelievable! In the rest of the world, people believe in science..our leader recently said about evolution: the jury is still out on it!” This is the leader you chose! I have one answer to that; fossils!
    My point Mash? He mentioned how those literalist types (such as enountered in Georgia) believe that fossils are the work of the devil. My point..these are the people who vote for Bush and do not give a bleepbleep about the reality in the world because they are absolute simpletons for whom the rest of us ge to tear our hair out and go nuts like Lewis Black.
    You’d wish you could round them up like training a puppy for going potty outside the box and pushing their colletive schnazes in that reality heap saying..look at it already..this is the real thing. Torture, Scars, people in pain!
    Lewis Black said that never in his long career has he done so much on politics during his routine. He’d say one line, people started laughing..he’d say see? You already know the punchline? Torture? I wonder what kind of ‘punchline’ he could attribute to that!

  6. Ingrid says:

    Mash! Peter Hoekstra and Rick Santorium wrote a piece on the oped page of the Wall Street Journal. Had no time to read it ofcourse, but if you know someone who does have the WSJ..you’d probably want to dissect it. If not, let me know (email) and I will send it to you..

  7. Mash says:

    Jim, that indeed is the problem, isnt it? People now only want to hear what they want to hear. Everyone has their favorite news outlet from which they only hear one side of the story. Its sad that in the information age, information is actually the casualty.

    Ted, its like poverty in the Third World. Everyone just accepts it as background noise. I dont know how a child starving to death or a woman being tortured can become background noise, but, yet, there it is. That is where I think stories about an individual can sometimes be more powerful than mass suffering. People are able to connect to it and perhaps it can spur some into action.

    Ingrid, I cant get to the article. Can you forward it to me? Thanks.

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