The Human moral keyboard is limited Adam One used to say: there’s nothing you can play on it that hasn’t been played before. And, my dear Friends, I am sorry to say this, but it has its lower notes.–Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood
Dystopia 21: Laissi’s Scars
Jack’s shoulders burned. The rest of him was cold. Frigid in fact. But his upper arms were on fire! His arms were pinned behind him at the level of his shoulder blades. They were chained to the ceiling so that if he did not balance on his toes, his body weight came to rest on the balls of his shoulders; threatening to pull his arms out of their sockets. His toes barely touched the floor. Enough to support most of his weight if he did not fall asleep. Every time he did begin to drift, he relaxed his muscles and the pain in his arms would jolt him awake. His hands and wrists had long since gone numb. He was no longer wearing his shirt and blood had dried on his chest and abdomen. The place where he was held was underground; cooler than he was used to. For the first time in his life, Jack was actually shivering. Hour after hour crawled past as he groaned in agony, sure he was forgotten in this hell. He longed for sleep and the blissfully unconsciousness it offered.
Finally, Larry came and undid the chain behind Jack. Jack fell to the floor actually unable to support his all of his own weight. The fire in his shoulders became searing pain all the way down his arms and into his hands. Jack hissed and panted until the pain began to subside. He tried to stagger to his feet. Larry became impatient and grabbed Jack under the arm to drag him from the room. As soon as Larry pulled up on Jack’s abused shoulder Jack jerked his head back and actually screamed. The pain did not subside until they were well out of the chamber and down the hall. Jack was taken to the interrogation room again and tied into the chair. He was too weak to fight Larry or even make it difficult for him.
It was not long before Mr. Teeth entered the room.
“DJ, I am so disappointed in you. Why are you hiding these others. They are killers. They are killing us….your people. Didn’t they kill your friends at the refinery? All you have to do is let us defend ourselves and all this can come to an end. Don’t you want it to end?”
Exhausted Jack nodded.
“Good.” The man bent over to look Jack in the eyes. “It is so simple. So easy. Just lead us to them. Then we can all be safe.”
“I don’t know where they are.” Jack rasped, more out of habit then any sense of will.
The man disappeared from Jack’s view and Jack did his best to brace himself before the inevitable blow. This time it did not take long for Jack’s words to slur and his thoughts to become too confused to give a coherent answer...
Jack did not wake until rough hands were on him again. He had not even heard them enter his cell. They carried him back to the “hurt room”. This time there was no chair in the room. They had erected a metal frame against one wall of the room. There was a small string or rope that went from the metal frame to the one light in the middle of the ceiling. They tied Jack’s hand to the top of the frame and then stripped his pants off of him. He did not even protest or try to prevent such a travesty. He no longer felt like the owner of his body. He felt almost disconnected from it except for the pain. They tied his feet to the frame so that he was now spread eagle.
Stan, his other tormentor, came into the room with Mr. Teeth.
“DJ,” Mr. Teeth implored, “We can do this all day long. We have enough people to do it. You don’t want any more. You know you don’t. It is simple to stop all of this. Just tell us where they are.”
Jack’s voice came out rusty and cracked, “Go ahead and do it all day then.” This was less bravado and more practical from Jack’s point of view. He was sure that if they had not given him the rest break earlier, he would have died. At this point he longed for his inevitable death.
“Tsk, tsk , tsk, DJ. You don’t know what you are asking of us. We don’t want to hurt you anymore.” Mr Teeth did not sound particularly sad about being forced to hurt Jack, “We don’t even want to be here with you now. We just need the one thing from you and then we can go back to the way it was.”
Even in his reduced state, Jack realized this was a lie. He mustered all of what was left of his former self and spit at his tormentors.
Stan snorted at Jack’s weak effort and a quick look of disgust fluttered across Mr. Teeth’s face. “DJ. Its time for a science lesson.” He turned and walked over to the middle of the room and stood under the light. Jack’s eyes followed him but there was nothing but disinterest behind them.
“Haven’t you ever wondered about the lights here, Jack? They are not candles. They give off light that is brighter and cleaner.” The tormentor paused for effect but Jack did not answer. “The light is produced with el-ec-tri-city.” He stressed each syllable to mock Jack and the word was indeed new to Jack. “But we can use electricity for so many other things, DJ. We use it to heat our homes, operate machinery…and we use it to cook with. It works very well for cooking DJ. There is no smoke, unless of course you burn what you are cooking.”
Stan approached Jack again. He took two small clamps attached to the cord that came from the ceiling and clamped them to Jack’s chest. Jack instantly recognized their shape. Matching triangles of metal. This is what had happened to Laissi! She had been here. She had not given them the answers they sought either. There were dozens, no, hundreds of marks on each of her breasts. How many times had she laid naked on this metal frame and refused them? Knowing this, how could he do less for her? Jack closed his eyes and set his resolve. Whatever came, he would not shame Laissi.
“DJ, this is one lesson you could do without. Just tell us where they are and we will show you how electricity works in a much more civilized fashion. Perhaps preparing you dinner.“
“Go to hell.” Jack croaked.
Mr. Teeth backed away from Jack and nodded to Stan who flipped a switch. The pain was instant and total. Every muscle contracted at once. He had never felt this sort of pain before. His eyes threatened to come out of his head. His facial muscles contorted in unnatural ways. He made involuntary sounds. He could not breath! His limbs danced against the frame. He was being consumed by fire.
And then it stopped. Jack lay slack against his binding panting and gasping for air as his whole body burned. Dear God, they had done this to Laissi and she had not told? How? She was covered in marks. How had she refused them so many times? He marveled at her and longed to hold her. To tell her how much he thought of her. To apologize because he did not think he could handle the same number of sessions she had.
The smell of something delicious cooking in a kitchen somewhere came to Jack’s nostrils. Despite his current pain his body needed sustenance and his mouth began to water. He raised his head to get a better whiff of the smell and to see if they were going to tempt him with food now. But when he opened his eyes he realized with disgust that the smoke was coming from his own chest and back. They were cooking him alive!
The Concepts Behind the Fiction:
1. A Taxi to the Darkside
On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. “Leave him up,” one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned that most of the interrogators had in fact believed Mr. Dilawar to be an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. Wiki
Dilawar was a 22 year old taxi driver who weighed 122 lbs. He was given up to American forces as the man who drove the get away car after the bombing on an American Air Base. His accuser was Jan Bez Khan who was later found to have sent several innocent men to the Americans to ingratiate himself to them and for the money they offered.
Dilawar’s “interrogation” was dutifully documented. During his questioning he received the following:
- A black hood pulled over his head limiting his ability to breathe
- Knee strikes to the abdomen
- Over 100 peroneal (a nerve behind the kneecap) strikes
- Shoved against a wall
- Pulled by his beard
- His bare feet stepped on
- Kicks to the groin
- Chained to the ceiling for extended hours, depriving him of sleep
- Slammed his chest into a table front–Wiki
Pathologist Major Elizabeth Rouse signed Dilawar’s death certificate. Her report stated that his legs had become “pulpified” by the beatings. She testified that if he had lived, his legs would have needed amputation.
If I had to narrow it to one thing that forced me to start this project, it would be Dilawar. It would be the fact that my people had become the torturers. To me, that was the most unacceptable part of the Bush years.
2. Torture under Obama
“To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” Barack Obama in an article in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2007
Obama did do several things in his first weeks of office to stop the torture in US detention camps. He signed executive orders stating that prisoners of war were to be treated in compliance with the Army Field Manual, which does not allow harsher interrogation techniques. But this does not cover those who are apprehended as part of a “counter terrorism operation”. These men are not protected from torture.
He closed the CIA black sites and disallowed the CIA from running long term detention sites. But where have the men from those sites gone?
Unfortunately, President Obama has continued a practice started by President Clinton and expanded by President Bush. The practice of rendition, in which prisoners are taken to foreign countries know for their harsh treatment of prisoners. When pressed about why the US needed to transport prisoners to countries like Egypt, no answer has been forth coming from this administration.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who tracked rendition cases under President George W. Bush.–NYT
Despite his pledge to close down Gitmo, Obama still hold 182 prisoners at Guantánamo. Fifty of these men are held in a Kafkaesque state of being without charges or the benefit of due process for the last 9 years. Making it impossible for them to seek their own release even if entirely innocent. Thus these men are subjected to the worst form of torture–hopelessness.
Obama has sought to uphold military kangaroo courts for 35 of these prisoners. He continues to refuse to release pictures of interrogations and evidence of their guilt. And he refuses to hold those who approved the torture accountable making it mute whether it is legal or not to torture.
The Obama administration’s efforts to bury the crimes of its predecessor mean that, in all probability, the same abuse is ongoing today. While the secret CIA prison gulag has been closed down-even prior to Obama’s executive order issued in February-there can be little doubt that at Guantánamo, and in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in third-party countries, torture continues.–WSWS
And then there is Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. About 600 prisoners are held there and two thirds of them the military itself thinks are innocent. Again these men are held without charges or due process in a hell of legal limbo. While torture at Gitmo has in all likelihood stopped, the evidence points to continued and worse torture at Bagram.
There is absolutely no difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration’s position with respect to Bagram detainees’ rights. They have made much ado about nothing, in the hope that the courts and the public will not examine the issue more closely.
Some of our clients have been at Bagram since its early days, and they still are not being told what the charges are against them, or given the ability to challenge those allegations in any fair legal proceeding. Moreover, several of our clients were brought to Bagram from outside of Afghanistan. For example, Amin Al Bakri — a Yemeni gem trader who was kidnapped while on a business trip in Thailand, rendered to secret prisons, tortured and finally ended up at Bagram — is still being held incommunicado and without access to his attorneys. We believe he was tortured in CIA secret prisons before being transferred to Bagram, which is why I believe the government does not want to allow us to speak with him. It’s a cover up. Amin has been at Bagram for more than six years. It’s hard to imagine any other reason why the government would not allow him a simple hearing in a US court.–Tina Foster is a lawyer working exclusively with Bagram prisoners.–Spiegel
In April 2009, a US judge ordered that prisoners transported to Bagram from other countries are not part of the military justice system and thus are entitled to Constitutional rights of due process. The Obama Justice department is fighting this claim.
“To provide alien enemy combatants detained in a theater of war the privilege of access to our civil courts is unthinkable both legally and practically,” the government’s brief claimed. IPS
So what is it about torture that makes it so hard to walk away from for this administration?
ADDENDUM ON 5/24/10:
The above decision was overruled in appeals yesterday.
Court Rules Against Prisoners at Bagram
A federal appeals court has ruled that prisoners held in an American-run jail in Afghanistan cannot challenge their confinement in federal court. The ruling impacts hundreds of prisoners held at Bagram Air Base, including men who were captured in other countries and then transported to Afghanistan. Tina Foster, an attorney for the detainees, criticized the decision. She said, “This is an extremely disturbing precedent that allows the US government to kidnap someone from any part of the world and never have to justify it, ever.” DN!
3. The Real Usefulness of Torture
During this series I have traced the history of torture from the Inquisition, through Nazi Germany, the USSR and Vietnam to the US. These techniques led to men confessing to partying with the Devil (in a literal sense) and naming other people they knew who had been at the party. After these techniques were used on them, US soldiers, who were clearly just grunts, confessed to being involved in elaborate US plots to take over the world by conquering Vietnam first.
If we know going into it, that the information you get from torture is unreliable, why do it? Not to get actionable intelligence. That you can get with much more effective, acceptable and humane treatment. No, the goal is to get something much more sinister. To get control. Torture and hold just a few people. Make it clear that you can “disappear” people at your will, and you undercut any resistance against you. You can control whole populations by just housing a few innocent people indefinitely. That is why Obama can not walk completely away from torture. Because he can not walk away from Iraq and Afghanistan.