Susan Mikula, Ph.D., was 6 years old when she escaped from the former Czechoslovakia in the middle of the night with her mother and sister. She remembers in vivid and at times emotional detail what she and her family and others endured at the height of communism during the post-World War II era in Eastern Europe.
With the recent release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report affirming aggressive post-911 CIA interrogations that many critics liken to torture, Mikula, a professor of Eastern European History and acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Benedictine University, has been reliving her harrowing childhood experiences in the dual context of an expatriate and American citizen.
She finds it ironic today that the same agency which helped her family escape communism is accused of using some of the same harsh interrogation tactics as the totalitarian regime.
“The idea that you would torture people who you didn’t know were enemies or not – that you would torture (innocent) people in order to identify suspects – it makes me think of all we went through to get away from that,” Mikula said.
Mikula’s mother, Edith Martonik, was tortured by the Czechoslovakian police, who were seeking information about Mikula’s father, Jozef Mikula, an outspoken critic of communism who helped formed an anti-communism group in the country.
Learning of the controversial interrogation techniques some U.S. government officials have employed since 9/11 has been a bitter pill for Mikula to swallow.
“My mother’s story is an example of why torture doesn’t work,” Mikula said. “So maybe you torture a dozen people and one gives you good information. But how do you know which one tells you good information? And is this what we want to be? The kind of America we want to be?”
Mikula, like many native Slovakians, is Catholic and was drawn to Benedictine University because of its Catholic heritage and values-based education, which she uses as a platform for teaching new generations of students about Eastern European history. Her story also tells the unique value of a liberal arts education.