(Cross-posted at dailyKos)This diary is long – mostly because it includes my inadequate attempt at translating a few paragraphs of “The GULag Archipelago” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. These paragraphs are what the author chose to use as examples if Stalin regime brutality. If you choose to read them, be prepared for a surprise.
We are all familiar now with the comparisons made by Amnesty International of the system of US detention centers to GULAG. We are also quite familiar with the outrage at the comparison.
Much of what is now known about GULag (In Russian, it is a neutral acronym for “Main Directorate for Camps”), is described in Solzhenitsyn’s monumental tome.
To be fair, the bulk of the book deals with imprisonment after a trial or tribunal. There is nothing we can compare with there, since vast majority of the detainees in the current war on terror have not even been charged with a crime. We can, however, reflect on the methods used in arrests and in pre-trial interrogations.
The translation I just did is not complete – oftentimes the author would provide references to his sources and personal accounts of some of the victims. I am not certain that the abridged English translation available in bookstores covers those either. In any event, you can go to the Russian source to get an exact quote.
Solzhenitsyn, The GULag Archipelago:
[Regarding interrogation methods]…As usual, Stalin would not finish the sentence: his subordinates were supposed to guess what he meant, and he would leave himself an out… It was not possible to rule out an unexpected explosion, a cataclysmic upheaval or at least a worldwide disclosure. In any case, Stalin had to remain angelically clean.
Therefore, there was not a typed list of torture methods that would be given to interrogators. What was required of each investigative unit was simply a predetermined number of subjects that confessed. What was said (never in writing, but often), that all methods are good, since they are aimed at a higher goal; that no-one will bring to account an investigator for the death of a subject; that the prison doctor should not get involved that much in the investigation conduct…
Knowing that the superiors where protecting themselves, rank-and-file investigators … also tried to start with milder methods, and in escalating would avoid methods that would leave obvious marks: poked out eye, broken back, and even bodies covered entirely in blue.
For all these reasons in 1937 we do not observe – other than sleep deprivation – any consistency in methods used in different cities or even between different interrogators in the same unit. One commonality was that the methods were “mild” (we shall see them in a minute). The real limits of a human balance are quite narrow, and one does not need hot coals to make an average person insane.
We will first list a few simpler methods that break the will of the arrestee without leaving marks on his body. We’ll start with the methods psychological…
1. We’ll start with NIGHTS. Why the breaking of souls happens mostly at night? Because ripped from sleep (even without sleep deprivation) arrestee cannot be as balanced and sober.
2. Earnest persuasion. This is the simplest. Why play cat-and-mouse? … The interrogator says in lazy-friendly tone: “You see, you will be jailed anyway. If you resist, then here, in detention, you will lose health. But after conviction – you go to the camp; you will see sunlight, air. So, just confess right away”. Very logical…
3. Swearing. For those intelligent types, with sensitivities, this is highly efficient.
4. Psychological contrast. Start with respectful conversation, offer all kinds of goodies. Then suddenly [turn violent and threaten]
5. Humiliation before the interrogation. …inmates, before interrogation, were ordered to lie face down on the floor of the common hallway, and to keep quiet without looking up… A woman would not give expected information. A female guard took her clothes from the cell, as if to prepare for a medical procedure. Then male guards then would look in, discuss her and laugh… All that to create the state of depression.
6. Anything that would disturb the subject. One F.V. was interrogated as follows. A female interrogator would disrobe in stages (strip-tease!), all along continuing her questioning…
7. Instilling fear… Often combined with guile and offers – obviously false. In 1924: If you stay silent – you go to [do hard labor].””We will release those who confess”. In 1944: “I decide which camp you get to go to”. Some are better than the others.
8. Lying. The interrogators lie all the time. He can put in front of you fabricated confessions of your friends and family members. Lying in combination with fear are the main methods of applying pressure on the relatives of the subject. “If you don’t say what we want you to, he will suffer”…”Only by signing this paper you can save him”
9. Playing on attachment to family. It is the most effective of fears… “We will arrest your daughter and put her in the cell with syphilis carriers.” They threaten to arrest everyone you love. Sometimes there is a sound track: [they will say] your wife is already arrested and her fate is in your hands. “Here’s her interrogation going on in the next room – take a listen”. And indeed, there is a woman’s crying audible through the wall. Sometimes it is a record player…
10. Loud sound method. Put the detainee a few yards away and make him loudly repeat what you say. Or shout… in the ear. This one is not economical, but gives entertainment to the bored interrogators.
11. Tickling. Retrain legs and arms and tickle nose with a feather. The arrestee feels as if his brain is getting drilled.
12. Extinguishing a cigarette against the skin.
13. Bright lights method. Very bright lights in a room painted white. The eyes get painfully inflamed. And in the interrogation room, flood lights are directed into the eyes.
14. Another idea. Escorting to the interrogation – for 12 hours. They would take [one] out of the cell, quickly go up the stairs to the interrogator. The interrogator, without asking a question, orders to take the subject back to the cell. As soon as he is in bed, another “interrogation”.
15. First thing that the arrestee will encounter in the prison is a box. Sometimes it is so small that one can only stand, sometimes dark. They would let him stay there for hours, even a day.
16. When they would run out of those boxes, they would put you on a tall stool in the hallway and would make you sit straight, without resting against the wall. Also, during interrogation they would make one sit on the edge of the chair, almost falling, so that the edge hurts during the interrogation.
17. Depending on local conditions, the box would be replaced with a hole – dug out in the ground 3 yards deep, 2 yards in diameter. That, uncovered from the sun and rain, becomes the cell and the toilet for a few days. [In other places] they would make one dig a hole in exact shape of a grave (combining with the psychological method here), but stop waist-deep. Then would make the prisoner sit at the bottom of this – the head would not reach the ground level.
18. Make the prisoner stand on his knees – quite literally – with straight back and not sitting on the heels. One can be made to stand like that for 12, 24, 48 hours. There is a variant – urinate on a subject standing ion his knees like that.
19. Just to make one stand. If he falls asleep and collapses – kick and lift him up. Sometimes one full day tires a person enough to sign anything.
20. Oftentimes for 3-4-5 days not to give any water.
21. Sleep deprivation. Highly underrated in the Middle Ages: then they did not know the narrowness of the range in which a man maintains his humanity. Lack of sleep(especially combined with standing, thirst, bright lights, fear, and the unknown) breaks the will and mixes up the conscious. A person acts half-or fully unconsciously, and cannot be scorned for any confession. Sometimes just for fun would put one on a soft couch instead of standing, but would kick you any time your eyes would close. Here’s a description form one of such victims [after spending some time in a tick-filled box for a day before that]: “Shivering from blood loss. The eye membranes are dried out, as if there is a red-hot iron in front of the eyes. The tongue is bloated from thirst, and hurts like a needle prick at any movement. Gag spasms are cutting the throat”. Sleep depravation is a great method of torture and leaves no visible signs. There is not much to even complain about, even if there is an inspection. “You could not sleep? What is it, a spa? The guards did not sleep either” (of course, they slept during the day). Since it was such a common method, it became part of the routine. In some prisons beds would be removed during the day. And all major interrogations would be at night. So automatically those who are being interrogated would be sleep deprived for at least 5 days a week (the interrogators take the weekend nights off).
22. As extension of the preceding – interrogation “conveyor belt”. Not only you do not sleep, but you are being interrogated for 3-4 days straight by changing teams of interrogators.
23. Tick boxes. Already mentioned above. The victim’s clothes gets removed and he is put into a wooden box full of hundreds or thousands of ticks. First he tries to fight them off, but after a few hours gives up and lets them suck.
24. As bad as cells can be, the isolation is worse. Usually hunger and cold are the methods (although in some places there are hot isolation cells). The arrestee is disrobed to underwear and is put, motionless (too tight to move) into the cold chamber for 3-4-5 days (hot food would be given only on the third day). In the first minutes you think you wouldn’t survive for an hour. But somehow, a man bears out 5 days, probably to be sick for the rest of his life.
25. A variant of isolation – a closed niche in the wall… locked naked in a concrete niche so that he could not move his legs or arms, not even turn his head. On top of that, water started dropping on top his head and spread in rivulets along the body. He was not told, of course that it would last for 24 hours. He lost consciousness; when the niche was open he was almost dead, he came to in the hospital bed. He could not remember where he was, what happened the day before. He was not fit to even be interrogated for a whole month.
26. Hunger. This was commonly used by small daily food ration (300gm), and banning bringing food from outside. But sometimes the use of hunger was extreme. Mr C. was held a month on 100 gm a day, and during interrogations the questioner would put out a loaf of fresh bread and a can of soup – but would never let him eat.
27. Beating without leaving marks. Rubber, bags with sand. It is very painful when they kick to the side of the knee, where the bone is right next to the surface. Hitting in the solar plexus with a fist leaves no marks and kicks the air out of you. Kicking n the groin so painful as to make one fall unconscious.
28. Compressing nails on one’s fingers.
29. Strait Jacket.
30. Breaking one’s spine
31. “Sparrow”: a long strong towel is tied across your mouth over the back to the heels. In such manner, without water and food, with crackling back you lie on your stomach for two days.
Need I to keep on adding to the list?…
Brother, do not judge those who got in, who was weak and who signed too much. Do not through a stone at them.
Perhaps one day those responsible will pay the price. Stalin lived out his years decades before the upheaval he was so afraid of came to be. But just for second, doesn’t the thought of being reviled for eternity in the company of monsters cross our leaders’ minds?