As our country is reflecting upon the use of torture by U.S. interrogators since 9/11, some history and literature from Latin America’s dirty wars offers insights. A new translation of Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti’s play Pedro and the Captain, about to be released by Cadmus Editions, provides an unblinking look into the psychology behind such abuses.
The play is a conversation between “The Captain,” who manages the interrogation and torture, and the prisoner, Pedro, a left-wing activist. They are representative characters whose lives are not explained in detail.
Pedro maintains his dignity by refusing to name names, and protects himself from the pain by thinking of himself as already dead.
He challenges the Captain, who on some level believes himself to be a good man doing his duty.
Pedro’s challenges get under the Captain’s skin and turn the tables momentarily. The Captain finally admits, “I already know that [my wife] Inés and my children may come to hate me if the details of what I’ve done and what I’m doing ever come to light. But if I do all this and still get nothing in return… There’s no possible way I can justify it. If you die without giving up a single piece of information, then I’m a total failure, a total disgrace. But if you do say something, that would give me some justification. It would mean my cruelty hasn’t been gratuitous, it’ll have accomplished its purpose. That’s all I ask of you. I’m pleading with you…”
Mario Benedetti, Pedro and The Captain. Translation by Adrianne Aron, San Francisco: Cadmus Editions, 2009, www.cadmuseditions.com