From Torture to Truth

Sister Dianna Ortiz was kidnapped and tortured by Guatemalan security forces in November 1989 while serving as a missionary there. She has spent the ensuing years trying to recover from the experience as well as get answers from the U.S. and Guatemalan governments about the identity of "Alejandro," an American involved in her kidnap and torture.

As I improve, I have faith and hope and trust again, on my good days. But even on my good days, the smell of cigarette smoke reminds me of the burns the torturers inflicted on me. The sight of a man in uniform reminds me of the Policeman. I jump if someone runs up behind me, and if someone stands too close or stares at me, I back away. I sleep with the light on. I ask people not to smoke, not to stare, not to talk about torture tactics in front of me, and not to invite me to movies that are violent. Some people, because I make these requests, have accused me of having "an ungodly need to control." That's the way it is, and I imagine that's the way it will always be. I've learned to avoid situations that bring back the pain—on my good days, when I'm feeling assertive.

On my bad days I still say I should have died back in that prison, before I had to be used to inflict pain, before I had to make a choice about another human being's life or death. I still wish I had died.

Not everyone reacts to torture like I did. As my college English teacher has told me, I was a "fragile" person to start with, an artistic type who would write poems on my exams and sit on the hillside writing songs with my guitar. Not everyone is like me.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2003
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