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The Pear Tree:
Is Torture Ever Justified?
by Eric Stener Carlson

Foreword by Richard Pierre Claude

978-0932863454  99pp. $14.95  2006

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    “This is a unique work of spiritual exorcism that both exposes the errors of excuses
    offered for torture while allowing us to see those who harm us as human. Moreover, it is
    a work of narrative philosophy that is purgative in intent and a work of high literary merit
    that is ultimately healing in effect.”
    from the Foreword by Richard Pierre Claude
    Founding Editor, Human Rights Quarterly (USA)

    “We rarely get to hear of torture from the spectator, who lives, in some cases, on the
    periphery and, yet, may be the apparent beneficiary. Eric Carlson knows both the horror
    and comfort afforded by torture but must always live with the doubt that it gives the wrong
    answer. This small book should be read by everyone today, when the subject is in the
    forefront of the national consciousness. No one should make up their mind about torture
    before they read this book.”
    Herbert F. Spirer, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, The University of Connecticut
    Former Adjunct Professor of International Affairs, Columbia University

    “In The Pear Tree, Eric Stener Carlson weaves an account of the rapes and other cruelty
    he documented for his work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
    Yugoslavia, and the evidence of brutality he has confronted in Argentina and Peru, with
    his own memories—of childhood fears and his uncomfortable gratitude for a powerful
    adult whose hidden and unknown acts had protected him and his town from the danger
    of a local menace. His exploration aims to shrink the distance between him and the
    atrocities he studies, to defend against the numbness of the professional observer. In
    vividly told stories, he struggles honestly not only to empathize with the victim, but to put
    himself, too, in the place of the perpetrator. By doing so, he both acknowledges the
    instinct to protect that could make him kill or torture and affirms the reasons why he
    James J. Silk, Executive Director
    Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School

    "a powerful statement...I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in this
    topic... It is likely to have strong impact on anyone who reads it."  
    Sheldon Levy, Professor of Psychology, Wayne State Unviersity


    Late one night, Eric Stener Carlson sat down at his desk to review witness statements
    of torture victims.  It was the late 1990s, and he was working for the International
    Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as an analyst for the sexual assault
    investigation team.  As he paged through the testimonies of multiple murders, multiple
    rapes, and villages erased from the map, a half-forgotten memory from his childhood
    began to emerge…The rape and murder of a young girl from his home town.  The
    suspicion authorities had used torture to resolve the crime.  The feeling of satisfaction,
    still lingering after so many years, that justice had been done.

    Then, slowly, voices from Carlson’s past ­ parents, soldiers, torturers, priests ­ began
    to fill the empty room.  They accused him of hypocrisy, for having supported torture in
    this case but then having spent a career advocating against it.  He was filled with fear
    that, given the circumstances, he, too, could commit torture.  That night, Carlson began
    to write The Pear Tree.

    This book takes us on a journey from the mass graves of Argentina, to the desolate
    slums of Peru, to the rape camps of the Former Yugoslavia. Lyrical and haunting, The
    Pear Tree is a stark exposition of torturers and victims, and the bystanders who support
    one side or the other.

    For students of human rights, The Pear Tree offers insight into the subject of torture far
    beyond what texts on international law can offer.  It is a window onto the world of
    advocacy; this world is not so much composed of zealous crusaders, as of human
    beings who, despite their own doubts, resolve to do justice.

    Those who work against torture will find in this book an echo of their own, unspoken
    fears.  They will also find something perhaps altogether unexpected:  hope.  In a
    confusing time, when presidents and lawyers, soldiers and common citizens advocate
    torture, Carlson’s voice comes across, soft and clear, like the tone of an exorcist’s bell:  
    “I would rather die, I would rather my society died, if its survival hinged upon my need to
    torture anyone’s child, young or old.  And I will speak out against. . .all the good people
    of the world who advocate torture for all the noble reasons or who apologize for those
    who do.”


    ERIC STENER CARLSON is a recognized expert in human rights and the study of
    torture, with many years experience working for international organizations.  He has
    investigated mass sexual assault for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
    Yugoslavia, exhumed and identified bodies of “the disappeared” in Argentina as a
    Fulbright scholar, and assessed prison conditions of alleged terrorists throughout
    Peru as a free-lance expert.  His publications include I Remember Julia:  Voices of the
    Disappeared, and articles in The Lancet, and The British Journal of Criminology.  
    Carlson holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California at Santa
    Barbara, and an M.A. in International Affairs from Columbia University.


    Foreword by Richard Pierre Claude
    Chapter One: Insomnia
    Chapter Two: The Garden
    Chapter Three: The Stranger
    Chapter Four: The Millstone
    Chapter Five: The Fortress
    Chapter Six: Of Love, Whores
    Chapter Seven: Literary Deconstruction
    Chapter Eight: Self-Defense
    Chapter Nine: Thirst
    Chapter Ten: The Petting Zoo
    Chapter Eleven: Elocution
    Chapter Twelve: Primary Sources
    Chapter Thirteen: My Mother’s Gloves
    Chapter Fourteen: Strays
    Chapter Fifteen: Ramón Screams
    Chapter Sixteen: Belief System
    Chapter Seventeen: Hemingway’s Shotgun
    Chapter Eighteen: Lunch among Equals
    Chapter Nineteen: Behind the Curtain
    Epilogue: Reflections on Abu Ghraib


    Tonight, I sit in front of my computer. The hum of the fan cooling the disk
    drive, the sound of my voice as I read each word aloud that flickers on the
    blue screen. Correcting. Erasing. I am the last one in the office tonight.

    I have several pictures taped to the front of my desk. A photograph of my
    wife, Luján. Her long, dark hair, pinned up by John Lennon sunglasses,
    elbows back, leaning against an iron-work fence, her dark, Argentine eyes,
    proud Basque nose, one moment captured from our graduate school days
    in New York. A picture of Hemingway when he was old and beautiful, his
    beard full of butterflies, like Lorca said of Whitman. And a quote from the
    Bible; Isaiah - Jesus’ favorite book - chapter 32, verse 13 - 17: “And the work
    of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness
    and assurance forever.”

    The security guard, uniformed-blue, walks through the hall, checking doors,
    making sure the tea pots are unplugged for the night. The photo-sensor
    beeps as he scans his id., and the door closes behind him with a “click”.
    Quietness. Assurance. Peace.

    I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I mean, some nights are better than
    others. But not tonight. Tonight is a staying-awake night, a staying-alert
    night, a night like Martin Luther had, when he sat alone with the inkwell
    cocked in his left arm with the Devil staring back at him from the dark corner
    of his room.

    I work as “Expert-On-Mission” for Physicians for Human Rights at the
    International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The
    Netherlands. My father has asked me several times, “What is an Expert-On-
    Mission? What do you do?” The short answer is - I make studies of other
    people’s pain.

    I work for the sexual assault investigation team. Every day I walk to work past
    the Peace Palace built by Carnegie out of remorse for his millions made. I
    make my way to the first security booth, scan my id. over the photo-sensor,
    pass through one, two, three revolving doors. I walk up to the third floor and
    check my in-tray for faxes. The investigators have already dropped a pile of
    witness statements translated from Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian to English on
    my desk. I read the victim’s name on the first page, and thus the work day

    I analyze the rapes committed in certain detention camps, villages and
    schools, forests and barns, carried out by, or carried out against, Muslims,
    Croats and Serbs in this recent war of “ethnic cleansing”. Not just rapes
    though, but every form of sexual assault imaginable, and, after two years of
    this work, I can imagine just about anything. That’s one of the reasons I can’t
    sleep tonight.

    I’m suffering from what’s called “secondary-stress”, a condition common to
    human rights activists. It comes from reading the testimonies I read. I add
    up the number of vaginal rapes and anal rapes, blow jobs, cuninlingus,
    analingus, and forced masturbation that I come across, circling them with
    pink, yellow and green hi-lighters. Then I design columns of data on
    Microsoft Excel and Word, with neat, intersecting rows of perpetrator names,
    dates of assault, numbers of women who reached the clinics in time to
    terminate their unwanted pregnancies, those who did not. . .etcetera.

    None of what I read has happened to me. I know. But absorbing these
    atrocities five days a week darkens the already dark, deep water inside of
    me. It touches me, frightens me. No matter how many doors I shut inside, I
    cannot numb myself entirely from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., while I skim
    through the fragments of other people’s lives, which often start something
    like, “He was my husband’s best friend for thirty years, we used to drink
    coffee together. But the day the war began he broke into my house and
    raped my six-year-old daughter in front of me with a broken bottle. Then he
    slit her belly open with a hunting knife. . .”