In many countries that have been wracked by ethnic cleansing or a civil war, the victims of torture, and the people who tortured them, still live too close for comfort.

It seems like an impossible situation to imagine, but writers from Georgia, Argentina and Lebanon described the indescribable when they were invited to Joe’s Pub ( on April 29th as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. Larry Siems, Director of the PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Project introduced the writers.

Bon Mots

On the Desire for Truth: The desire for truth is often more urgently felt by the victims of torture more than the desire for justice. It’s a mysteriously powerful, almost magical notion because often everyone already knows the truth. Everyone knows who the torturers were and what they did; the torturers know that everyone knows, and everyone knows that they know. —Larry Siems read from Lawrence Weschler’s book, A Miracle, a Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers

On Language and War:

There is no poem you can write
about it, the sandpits
where so many were buried
& unearthed, the unendurable
pain still traced on their skins.
—Mohsin Hamid read Margaret Atwood’s poem, Notes towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written

On Confronting our History: During the Bush administration, Justice Department lawyers wrote memos that effectively nullified the laws against torture. And as a result of those decisions hundreds of men were tortured. Americans are now deciding how to confront that history.
—Jameel Jaffer, director of ACLU’s National Security Project.