The Perfect Torture


China says it has "ample evidence" that the Dalai Lama instigated and orchestrated the revolt in Tibet, but as yet none of this evidence has been made public.

Torture takes time to yield results, but the results are predictable. Sooner or later, we will see broken Tibetans confessing that they played a part in an evil conspiracy masterminded by the Dalai Lama. Many more will choose to die rather than blame the man they view as the embodiment of compassion.

Many are dying already, their bones broken violently in their prison cells, a violence legitimated by the Communist Party’s declaration of "people’s war" and "a life and death struggle" against the evil Dalai and his secret network. They die knowing the world is at last paying attention to the subjugation of Tibet, in a way decades of patient non-violent resistance never achieved. Only the suicidal protest of the Tibetans, utterly outgunned by China’s might, has generated global concern.

Participants in the street protests have "surrendered" in their hundreds, yet fresh protests are erupting all over the 150 counties that are nominally areas of Tibetan governance — half of them beyond the Tibet "Autonomous" Region. The streets are now patrolled by the tanks and armour of the People’s Armed Police crack riot squads.

Now the second act opens, inside the prisons, far from the gaze of visiting diplomats and international journalists. It is here that the torturers do what torturers do anywhere: extort from those they torture whatever the regime has predetermined to be the truth. Thousands of transcripts of interviews with people who have survived torture reveal deep commonalities among torturers, be they Greek or Argentinean colonels, Abu Ghraib interrogators or Chinese Communist Party "thought work" apparatchiks.

Whatever the time and place, all torturers do two things: one for the wider audience, and one for the group or class being demonised. For the wider world, the confessions extracted by torture serve as documented proof that the regime was justified in striking hard against its enemies. For the tortured and their communities, the lesson is that resistance is futile. The only possible outcome is people broken to the core, walking emblems of the absolute power of the regime to enforce its way.

Chinese torturers have discovered methods specifically designed to break Tibetans. This method is especially potent in dealing with the leaders of the protests, the nuns and monks who have renounced attachment and deal with everyone — friend or enemy, benefactor or agent of harm — with impartial equanimity and compassion.

Purifying the mind of its preferences, attachments and habits is an arduous process, aided by developing great faith in role models who exemplify the qualities to be attained. Some of these role models are imaginary deities conjured into the mind, then consciously dissolved. Other mentors are living, the great lamas whose qualities and capabilities are available to be checked and observed directly by those around them. Nuns and monks have deep devotion for their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, of whom none is higher than the Dalai Lama. He is their ultimate role model.

China’s torturers have discovered that if one can force a Tibetan nun or monk to desecrate — spit on, trample underfoot — an image of the Dalai Lama, it is possible to shatter their whole being, thus achieving the purpose of torture. To publicly denounce the Dalai Lama is a root transgression of the vows the religious have taken, vows in which defaming one’s teacher is described as worse than killing a parent.

It makes little difference that the Dalai Lama himself has said it doesn’t matter if, under duress, monks or nuns have to denounce him. He says it diminishes neither him nor those forced to transgress everything they hold dear. He has said so many times. But still it breaks Tibetan hearts and minds.

And it extracts confessions. Soon China will have its "evidence", and the plotting of the Dalai Lama will be "revealed". Tibetans will be seen on camera, providing lurid details of a vast conspiracy to weaken, split and subvert all that China stands for. China will have found what it was determined to find; and Chinese people, encouraged by state propaganda to hate Tibetans, will believe what they see.

Among the Party leadership, the alternative is unthinkable. China’s Communist leaders, living secluded behind the walls of an old imperial palace in Beijing, cannot admit a truth more terrifying than a trans-Himalayan plot of the Dalai Lama’s devising: that five decades of Chinese rule over Tibet have been counter-productive and self-defeating. Far more confronting is the possibility that the uprising was a popular and spontaneous outpouring of deeply repressed resentment at decades of being treated with contempt by a master race that positions itself as the embodiment of all that is civilised.

This tragedy has more acts to come before China’s leaders wake up, as eventually they must. But how many more acts of cruelty, torture, denunciation and state-sponsored racism must come first?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.