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Dytopia 8: The Touch


"There stands, my friend, in yonder pool
An engine called the ducking-stool;
By legal power commanded down
The joy and terror of the town.
If jarring females kindle strife,
Give language foul, or lug the coif,
If noisy dames should once begin
To drive the house with horrid din,
Away, you cry, you’ll grace the stool;
We’ll teach you how your tongue to rule.
The fair offender fills the seat
In sullen pomp, profoundly great;
Down in the deep the stool descends,
But here, at first, we miss our ends;
She mounts again and rages more
Than ever vixen did before.
So, throwing water on the fire
Will make it but burn up the higher.
If so, my friend, pray let her take
A second turn into the lake,
And, rather than your patience lose,
Thrice and again repeat the dose.
No brawling wives, no furious wenches,
No fire so hot but water quenches."
Benjamin West 1780

Dystopia 8: The Touch

Jack was snoring loudly under the shade of a creosote bush near the mid portion of the walk way through the camp. It was "asaje", the nap that took place after lunch and before sun down. Jack had rapidly gotten into the rhythm of the camp. They worked in the fields in the morning and took an asaje after lunch until things cooled down near sunset. Then they would cook; weave cloth and baskets, and repair tools until a late evening dinner. They broke into groups for gambling games, conversations, laughter and a very small quantity of beer after dinner until late when they settled in for the night. Jack had to admit that this system made sense in the hot climate and he had begun to relax a little. If things had been different perhaps he could have gotten to know these people. Perhaps he would have even enjoyed being one of them. But he still longed to return to his own people whose language and rules he understood. He wished to go back to the relative comfort of Fort Jenna.

A young boy slipped closer to Jack as he sawed wood. The boy crept ever closer with his hand out stretched and an anxious look on his face. When he had almost reached Jack, he turned his head to look behind him. A group of boys was standing several feet behind him. They waved him on, silently telling him to keep going. He started to edge forward again. As his fingers brushed Jack’s leg. Jack jumped up and roared with his hands stretched over his head like claws. The boy screamed and ran back to the safety of his friends who began to laugh and slap him on his back. The boy turned back toward Jack and began to giggle uncontrollably along with the other boys. Jack, and several of the rebels watching, chuckled. Then Jack fell back to the ground and began to snore loudly again. This time another boy slipped forward to brave touching the dangerous Morotî Mitâ’, as he had come to be known in the camp.

Over the past few days Jack noticed that he was less and less of a pariah. Once he demonstrated competence in the fields and a willingness to work for his dinner, something Jack had know his whole life, the restrictions on him all but vanished. Although his whereabouts were watched by all the members of the camp, Arndt was assigned to other duties. And why not? Where was Jack to go? They were surrounded by desert. Jack was not even sure he could find his way back to the destroyed refinery now. He began to learn Guarani. He learned that seed was ta’ÿi and to hoe was ka’api. But he was a long way from being able to carry on a conversation. And so he sought out the company of the one woman in the group who had obvious disdain for him. The woman he secretly thought of as "the scorpion", Liassi.

When the boys had tired of their game with him, and were occupied with some bug they had found in the dirt of the main walkway, Jack spotted Liassi about to settle down for her asaje under a bush by herself. He headed toward her and sat on the ground near to her, but still at a respectable distance. She glared at him for a moment and then went back to spreading out a blanket in the sand. She was at least becoming used to him. She sat on the blanket and began to eat her lunch, soup and a flat bread called a tortilla.

Jack stirred his cup of soup. There was meat in it. This was a luxury where Jack was from, and he was surprised that the rebels allowed him to share it. He wanted her to know he had noticed and appreciated their generosity.

"What is the meat in the soup?" He hoped it was a fairly neutral sentence to start their conversation.

"Ah…how you say…Chicken."

"Chicken?" Unbeknownst to Jack there were chickens at Fort Cheney. Jack had never seen them. Only the Cheney Family that lived at the Fort and some of the high ranking Blackwaters had partaken of these chickens.

She looked at him with on odd expression. When he only returned her look with curiosity she said, "Hêe. De white birds in the yard. Dey give us eggs and when dey can not make eggs den we eat dem."

"Oh…They taste like rattle snake."

She turned and glanced at him with a clear look of disgust on her face. Apparently rattle snake was not part of their cuisine. He had not meant to offend her; he had meant this as the highest compliment.

"It is very good." He said thinly.

There was silence between them for a moment, and then Jack tried again. "You know I have been thinkin. If the Blackwaters are controlled by the Fort Family, has anyone tried to communicate with the Family, itself? Maybe negotiate a truce? Few people have ever seen them. They’re pretty removed from what the Blackwaters do. Maybe if someone could…"

Her head snapped around and she glared at him, "You don’t know what you are talking about."

"Look I know that mistakes have been made here…by both sides. They have hurt people here. Hell, they hurt people at my home too. But I don’t think the family in the fort understands what goes on outside their walls. They are too isolated. They don’t understand what the Blackwaters are doing."

She stood up suddenly and glared down at him, "Dey understand just fine. Dey are aneemals, deese men."

He matched her gesture and stood up so he could look her in the face. "You don’t know that. You think all of us are the same. We’re not all Blackwaters!" He emphasized his point by pounding his own chest. "If we could get to them. Explain to them the pain they are causing. Then maybe…"

"I DO KNOW." She threw her cup of soup on the ground and whirled around. Jack expected her to stalk away from him. She had done that plenty of times in the short time he had been here already. But she didn’t. Her hands went to her waist and she pulled her shirt free from where it was tucked into her pants. Then she raised the back of her shirt up to her shoulders revealing her back to him. Jack was vaguely aware that others were approaching them. "Dis is what deese men do. Not Blackwaters. Dis is the kind of pain deese men cause demselves."

Jack’s lips parted as his jaw went slack. He stared at her back in shock. It was a mass of scar tissue. Deep chasms intersected with other deep chasms. But that was not all. There were gouged pits at the intersection points of the chasms. From infection? No. There was a pattern to these pits. Like the intersections of a grid. The person who had beaten her had used something more than a whip. A knotted rope or perhaps metal with studs? Yes, the lines were straight like something made of wood or metal. Jack could not count the number of lash marks. There were too many of them. How had she survived such an attack? The people who had attacked her had shown her so much venom; they had surely meant for her to die from this attack.

For the first time Jack felt compassion for this woman. He finally understood her hatred for him. Unconsciously Jack lifted his right hand. His finger tips lightly touched one of the deep ravines. The skin was a hard and cold mound of scar. His caress migrated down to a small square of almost normal tissue that was still supple and warm. Liassi gasped, took a step forward, dropped her shirt and spun around in one quick motion. She had her hand lifted above her head, ready to strike him for his impertinence.

Jack froze. His face had been wide open when she had turned around. He had been too shocked to compose his face into its liar’s dice flatness it usually carried when he was stressed. What had she seen? Horror, pity, shock? It was too late to do anything about it now; she was already staring at him.

His first impulse was to protect himself from her slap by grabbing her hand as it arced toward him. But when she paused for a second he had a moment to think. He consciously willed himself not to raise his own hand to protect his face. He decided he was willing to let her slap him. He knew it had been inappropriate to touch this guarded woman without express permission. He had not even realized that he was doing it. His hand had gone there almost on its own. It was just that she had caught him so off guard. He would go mad without someone to talk to in this place, even someone hostile. Allowing her to slap him would give her the catharsis she needed and let them move on from here. So he stood there breathing hard, with the shock still showing on his face, and not moving to protect his face.

She surprised him again. She did not hit him. Her expression changed from shear hatred to disbelief to something softer… curiosity perhaps? And then as she dropped her hand, her face became completely unreadable.

Slowly Jack lowered his offending hand. He dropped his gaze slightly. He wanted to convey a nonthreatening pose, but also it was hard to look at her with the image of the ruined flesh so vivid in his mind.

"I’m sorry." He was surprised that he meant it. Not just that he had touched her without permission, but that she had been beaten at all. His face was now composed but his voice still betrayed him. It was throaty and filled with emotion. It barely came out as a whisper. He swallowed hard and tried again. He forced himself to lift his gaze to look her in the eye so that the apology would be as sincere as he felt.

"I’m sorry." Less hoarse but still barely audible.

She stared at him for a moment longer. Then she bent and took up her blanket, turned and walked away. Oddly, Jack felt relief as she left. He had to digest this. At Fort Cheney the Blackwaters had killed without emotion. They had watched people Jack knew die of starvation and disease. But they had not tortured anyone that he knew of. They had acted swiftly and efficiently to kill. They had not lingered over it. It was just a part of their job. It was not as personal as the attack on Liassi implied.

Jack’s thoughts were interrupted by a shout and a shove. José, the young guard who was still suspicious of Jack, was in front of him yelling at him. He was in Jack’s face and shoving his shoulder. Jack held up his hands in submission. As if to say "What do you expect? She’s crazy." Unable to provoke Jack into a fight, and with others in the camp including Epi watching, José settled down somewhat. He growled a few more unintelligible threats at Jack and then stalked away. Jack was once again alone with the image of Liassi’s scars burning their way into his mind.

The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1. The History of Waterboarding

Dr. Allen S. Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, said waterboarding involved tipping a person back, covering his mouth with a cloth and repeatedly pouring water over the cloth to make him gag and experience a drowning sensation. If it is done long enough, Dr. Keller said, there is a risk that the person may drown or have a heart attack. NY Times 2007

Waterboarding, and for that matter all torture, has a long history. It was invented during the Spanish Inquisition. For those that are not inclined towards history, that was the time when people were being tortured until they confessed to being a witch and then gave up others in the village who were also a witch.

Waterboarding dates at least to the Spanish Inquisition, when it was known as the tormenta de toca. It has been used by some of the most cruel dictatorships in modern times, including the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In some versions of the technique, prisoners are strapped to a board, their faces covered with cloth or cellophane, and water is poured over their mouths to stimulate drowning; in others, they are dunked head-first into water. Human Rights Watch 2006

 

It is really an obvious form of torture. The body has significant mechanism to prevent one from drowning. As the first droplets of water hit the wind pipe in the back of the throat, the larynx spasms to block out the water and shuts off the lungs from any access to air. Choking and coughing fits ensue. A primal connection in the brain fires to tell the consciousness to escape at all cost. The medical definition of drowning is "to suffocate because of excess of fluid that interferes with the passage of oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues". Waterboarding is not simulated drowning, it is controlled drowning.

Waterboarding resurfaced in World War II when the Germans started using it against the Norwegian resistance. The US at that time helped to prosecute the Germans for war crimes.

The phrase has a lineage. Verschärfte Verneh-mung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the "third degree".

It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.

The United States prosecuted it as a war crime in Norway in 1948. The victims were not in uniform – they were part of the Norwegian insurgency against the German occupation – and the Nazis argued, just as Cheney has done, that this put them outside base-line protections (subsequently formalised by the Geneva conventions).

The Nazis even argued that "the acts of torture in no case resulted in death. Most of the injuries inflicted were slight and did not result in permanent disablement". This argument is almost verbatim that made by John Yoo, the Bush administration’s house lawyer, who now sits comfortably at the Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Times On Line 2007

From there it made its way to the KGB in the Soviet Union and then to the Vietnam. During the Vietnamese war our captured soldiers began to confess to all manner of acts and plots. The Pentagon watched as their soldiers confessed to ever more absurd conspiracies against the Vietnamese on video tapes broadcast by the Vietnamese. They wanted to know what could have made these men confess to such nonsense. They got their answer in part when

Jeremiah Denton

blinked the word torture on his video taped confession.

 

After the war ended the military created the

SERE program

. This program reverse engineered these torture techniques to find ways for the most at risk soldiers to resist them. Among the things that were reverse engineered was waterboarding. Our troops, not our enemies were subjected to these tactics in an attempt to strengthen their resolve if captured by an enemy that tortures. People who did torture outside of this one program were routinely prosecuted.

 

The United States has long considered waterboarding to be torture and a war crime. As early as 1901, a US court martial convicted Major Edwin Glenn of subjecting a suspected insurgent in the Philippines to the "water cure." After World War II, U.S. military commissions successfully prosecuted as war criminals several Japanese soldiers who subjected American prisoners to waterboarding. A U.S. army officer was court-martialed in February 1968 for helping to waterboard a prisoner in Vietnam. Human Rights Watch 2006

 

But for some reason, the Bush administration decided for the first time to use these techniques on our enemies.

 

…interrogators who had no idea how to do these things were asked to replicate some of the methods US soldiers had been trained to resist if captured by the Soviets or Vietcong. Times On Line 2007

 

Classic torture techniques, such as waterboarding, hypothermia, beatings, excruciating stress positions, days and days of sleep deprivation, and threats to family members (even the children of terror suspects), were approved by Bush and inflicted on an unknown number of terror suspects by American officials, CIA agents and, in the chaos of Iraq, incompetents and sadists at Abu Ghraib. And when the horror came to light, they denied all of it and prosecuted a few grunts at the lowest level. The official reports were barred from investigating fully up the chain of command. Times On Line 2007

 

So the Bush Administration decided to use a technique that was renowned for it ability to get people to confess to witchcraft and in modern times forced our own soldiers to confess to things that we knew to be untrue to get information. Torture is a great technique…if your only goal is to get someone to say something that is untrue; for the purposes of propaganda or for an excuse to wipe out troublesome people who dispute the authority of the church. But to get information, real information, it does not have a very good track record.

 

Yet despite the poor track record for torture, the Bush administration seems to have gone whole hog on this technique.

 

Before there were "enhanced interrogation techniques," there was verschärfte Vernehmung, (which means "enhanced interrogation techniques") developed by the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst in 1937 and subject to a series of stringent rules. Now, as we have seen previously, there were extremely important differences between the Gestapo’s interrogation rules and those approved by the Bush Administration. That’s right—the Bush Administration rules are generally more severe, and include a number of practices that the Gestapo expressly forbade. Harper’ Mag 2007

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. EmptyWheel, Firedog Lake

Approved methods included refusing to allow detainees to sleep for 11 days, forced nudity, spraying detainees with 41-degree water, and confining detainees in small boxes, the New York Times reports. One approved practice, called walling, involved pressing a detainee’s shoulder blades against a fake wall, producing loud noises, according to the Washington Post

One of Bradbury’s memos addressed the issue of walling, according to the Post account. "A detainee may be walled one time (one impact with the wall) to make a point, or twenty to thirty times consecutively when the interrogator requires a more significant response to a question," the memo said. InfoWars

 

And just how far were these men willing to go with these techniques? Good question:

 

In the memos, released Thursday, the Bush Administration White House Office of Legal Counsel offered its endorsement of CIA torture methods that involved placing an insect in a cramped, confined box with detainees. Jay S. Bybee, then-director of the OLC, wrote that insects could be used to capitalize on detainees’ fears.

The memo was dated Aug. 1, 2002. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s children were captured and held in Pakistan the following month, according to a report by Human Rights Watch…

At a military tribunal in 2007, the father of a Guantanamo detainee alleged that Pakistani guards had confessed that American interrogators used ants to coerce the children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed into revealing their father’s whereabouts…

"The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs and were denied food and water by other guards," the statement read. "They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding." (A pdf transcript is available here) Raw Story

Description of American Torture Techniques

Blast the Right Podcast #109

 

2. But its a New Day Now…Right?

"I’m saying when the President does it, its not illegal." Richard M. Nixon

 

One of President Obama’s first actions in the White House was to stop "enhanced interrogation techniques". And I do applaud him in this action. But he seems unwilling to take this all the way.

Rice, Ashcroft Approved Torture in July 2002

More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger. Democracy Now!

Report: Under CIA Pressure, Obama to Withhold Parts of Torture Memos

President Obama is reportedly wavering on a pledge to fully reveal Bush administration memos authorizing CIA torture. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House is leaning toward withholding graphic details of tactics authorized in three classified memos from 2005. The details include approval for striking a prisoner’s head against a wall and the practice known as waterboarding. The issue is reportedly centering around warnings from top intelligence officials that the memos’ full disclosure would anger CIA employees and alienate them from the White House. President Obama faces a Thursday court deadline to act on releasing the memos under a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. Democracy Now!

Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has reneged on a pledge to release several dozen photos showing the torture and abuse of prisoners at overseas CIA and military jails. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But after indications he was having second thoughts, President Obama confirmed Wednesday he will block the photos’ release.

President Obama: "The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."

Around forty-three photos had been set for release. The military is believed to have as many as 2,000 photos depicting prisoner abuse. Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer who argued the case, said, "This essentially renders meaningless President Obama’s pledge of transparency and accountability that he made in the early days after taking office… [The Obama administration] has essentially become complicit with the torture that was rampant during the Bush years by being complicit in its cover-up." Democracy Now!

Report: Obama Rejected Investigative Commission on Torture

The news comes as lawmakers have begun debating calls for an investigation into Bush-era officials for potential prosecution. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an investigation and said witnesses shouldn’t receive immunity for testifying. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting President Obama personally nixed a proposal to create a 9/11 Commission-style panel as an alternative to releasing the memos. Obama made the decision following weeks of administration debate. A White House official summarized Obama’s response as: "I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don’t need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this." Democracy Now!

Majority of Americans Favor Probe of Bush Administration over Torture

A new ABC/Washington Post poll has found 51 percent of Americans support an investigation of whether Bush administration officials broke the law. But on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested President Obama opposes the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture. Democracy Now!

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Says Obama Violating International Law

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, has said President Obama is in violation of international law for declining to prosecute CIA agents who used torture. Nowak said the US is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires prosecution in all cases in which there is evidence of torture. Democracy Now!

Report: CIA Prisoners Still Missing

The Obama administration has claimed it’s closed Bush-era secret prisons. But the investigative website ProPublica is reporting more than three dozen CIA prisoners are still missing. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said, "The Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody. If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend it’s closed the door on the CIA program."" Democracy Now!

Since the "few bad apples" were prosecuted for torture in Abu Ghraib torture cases, the failure to prosecute men of wealth and power who tortured does seem to illustrate once again the duel justice system that is present in the US. Apparently Nixon was right. This is how political impunity is manufactured and you can expect to see torture at the hands of Americans again.

ALFRED McCOY: We’re at a critical moment in the debate about torture. We’re at the exact moment historically we’ve been at six times over the past forty years. What’s happened since really 1970, right up to the present, because we’ve been engaged in torture continuously throughout this entire period, is that Congress and the press will conduct a major exposé of torture; the public will be momentarily aroused; there will be no sustained investigation, no prosecution, no penalty; the practice will continue. A few more years later, another revelation, another round of debate, discussion, nothing done, and then it emerges again.

So I think what’s fairly certain to say, that if the past teaches us anything, that unless there is serious prosecution and something beyond simply a legislative investigation, something more binding, something more permanent, that within five or six years, we’ll be faced with another major torture scandal just like this one, except it will be worse, because the world will remember this exposé. They’ll think that we tried to correct, and we didn’t correct, and they’ll realize that this is in fact American state policy, that torture is part of the apparatus of American power. Democracy Now!

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