An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Body and Soul

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28.

"On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC (Persons Under Control) tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day [a sergeant] shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger, a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs." Human Rights Watch, "Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division", September, 2005.

Soldiers in Iraq feel at the mercy of an unfeeling and incomprehensible power that has thrown them into the pit of darkness. At any moment, one of the PUCs or the brother/cousin of a PUC could end their life. They have been trained to feel invincible, yet they know they are slaves in the service of a power that doesn't care for their life or death. These psychological conditions are pre-requisites to the real purpose of the powers controlling the situation - to turn soldiers into torturers. Torture has long been found to be one of the most effective devices for the enforcement of social control.

The following applies directly to the production of insurgents in Iraq through torture - "We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state's claims to power over the bodies of its citizens. Torture plays out the dream of a certain kind of state, the production of a type of power/knowledge which I will call the imagination of the state. To speak of imagination is not, of course, to imply that state power is "merely imaginary," a disembodied thought. The imagination of the state has a tremendous power to discipline bodies, to habituate them and script them into a drama of its own making...Torture is rather both the production of that threat and the response to it, and thus the ritual site at which the state produces the reality which its pretensions to omnipotence consist." William T. Cavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist", Blackwell, 1998. p. 31.

Just like the Chilean dictatorship of the 1970's and 80's, the current Bush administration is deliberately producing "insurgents" through the use of torture. The recent Human Rights Watch report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division" gives direct eye-witness testimony from Army officers to the continued use of torture in Iraq. It is also clear that this torture is not being used to extract information in most cases, but to terrorize and degrade the Iraqi populace. The fact that soldiers are "allowed" to work out their frustrations by breaking detainees' legs with a baseball bat demonstrates the purpose of this treatment. It is a mechanism of social control and at the same time a means of justifying the continued presence of the U.S. in Iraq. "The security of some states is made to depend on the insecurity of its citizens. The citizens then become self-disciplining, which is far more effective than the use of brute force." Torture and Eucharist, p. 46. In addition the torture is most effective if it is vaguely known to the citizens but denied by the powers that be so as to create a sense of total powerlessness and anxiety and thereby strengthen the levers of control.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, I strongly encourage you to read the whole report, which can be found at http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/.

When we are silent in the face of torture, we internalize the will of the masters who have ordered the torture. In effect, we aid in the process of bringing the Iraqis into subjection to the will of the master country by inwardly brutalizing our own souls. The harm that is done to the Iraqis, the Persons Under Control that we are now torturing, is little compared to the damage that we are doing to ourselves. In the words of Juan Cole, "The first reason to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners...The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. The some 15,000 Iraqis in American custody are all by now undying enemies of the United States. Some proportion of them started out that way but perhaps could have been won over." Informed Comment, Sept. 23, 2005.

In the next few weeks, I intend to extend these observations by examining the uses of torture as revealed in past U.S.-sponsored regimes that relied on torture as a means of social control. But I would like to end by remembering the words of Jesus quoted at the beginning: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28. The torturers are weak, they can only harm the body - they cannot command the soul. When we discover and root out the torturer in ourselves, then we will have the power to stop the brutalization of Iraqis. Please read the report.

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