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, December 16, 2007
Deliver the Powerful from the Impotence of their Weapons
Our resistance to empire is rooted in our capacity for suffering. The inner contradiction of global capitalism is that by deliberately cultivating poverty and misery on a mass scale in order to ensure a steady stream of profits through the reduction of labor costs, they breed a culture of suffering that provides the strength to resist domination, as we are currently seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dominator believes that a steady application of suffering to the victim will eventually destroy the core of the victim's personality and obtain total submission. But the victim becomes disciplined by a life of poverty and suffering that creates in him a core of resistance that is invisible to power. The minions of power, living in the luxury of the global elite, cannot understand that the wretched of the earth see life as suffering and live in the pain on which the powers build their shining cities.
Hence the massive miscalculation of Iraq. Blinded by wealth and comfort, assuming that Iraqis would quickly aspire to the lifestyle possible in "democracies", the war makers believed that the sparks of resistance would be quickly snuffed out. In fact, the combination of a long, brutal war with Iran, sanctioned and financed by the U.S., along with twelve years of inhuman sanctions, along with the massive oppression of our designated strongman, Saddam, had bred a fierce inner power that revealed the impotence of our technologies of death. This power of endurance is upheld by the justice of the Iraqi cause and the inhumanity and injustice of their oppressor.
Unfortunately, what has undercut their cause and may lead to their ultimate capitulation is their embrace of substandard versions of the weapons of the powerful, in the form of suicide car bombs and IEDs, along with crude tortures. The insurgents' adoption of violence cannot compete with the more effective use of that violence by the powerful. At the same time, such an embrace disrupts the unity necessary for successful resistance. The Sunni/Shiite sectarian divide which was cultivated by American and Israel has had great success in weakening that unity. When death squads are formed on either side, the oppressor's work is carried out by his victims.
"Suffering is the matter of a crucified world and the flesh of its unrealized power." - James W. Douglass
The essence of violence is the transformation of human beings into objects. This is the root of violence beyond all the "shock and awe" of bombs, guns, and the techniques of refined psychological destruction developed by the members of the American Psychological Association.
The purpose of torture is reduce human beings to the level of controllable objects, as illustrated in the following report Daniel Corsetti, an Army "interrogator" whose recent interview provided a participant's viewpoint on what was done to detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally this account has been disappeared from the U.S. press. Access details are at the end of this blog post.
"Each prisoner has in his cell a carpet measuring 1.2 m by 2.5 m. And they spend 23 hours a day sat on it, in silence. If they speak, they are chained to the ceiling for 20 minutes and black visors are put on them so they can't see and protectors are put on their ears so they can't hear. They are taken down to the basement once a week, in groups of five or six, to shower them. It's done to drive them crazy. I almost went crazy', recalls Corsetti. Apart from those normal cells, in the basement of the prison there are six isolation cells, plus two rooms for who the former soldier describes as 'special guests'."
And who are these "special guests"? "But Bagram has an underworld in which the CIA tortures the leaders of Al-Qa'idah. 'One day I went to an interrogation session and as soon as I arrived I knew that it was not a normal case. There were civilians, among them a doctor and a psychiatrist. The prisoner was called Omar al-Faruq, an Al-Qa'idah leader in Asia who had been brought to the prison by one of those agencies', recalls Corsetti. 'I don't want to go into details because it could be very negative for my country, but he was brutally beaten - daily. And tortured by other methods. He was a bad man, but he didn't deserve that'."
At one point Corsetti exclaimed, "It's incredible what a human being can take."
But the torturer remains implanted with his deeds forever: "...Corsetti, a veteran of two wars, says: 'I have seen people die in combat. I shot at people. That is not as bad as seeing someone tortured. Al-Faruq looked at me while they tortured him and I have that look in my head. And the cries, the smells, the sounds, they are with me all the time. It is something I can't take in. The cries of the prisoners calling for their relatives, their mother. I remember one who called for God, for Allah, all the time. I have those cries here, inside my head'."
The power of suffering lives as an aching image inside those charged with enforcing the imperial will on those who must be subjugated, working like dirty acid on the false image the torturer bears of himself.
The purpose of torture is psychological, to break the core of human personality, to make a person into an object even in his own eyes, "'In Abu-Ghraib and Bagram they were tortured to make them suffer, not to get information out of them'. And the fact is that at times the torture had no other goal that 'to punish them for being terrorists. They tortured them and didn't ask them anything'. That is the case of the practice known as 'the submarine': to simulate the drowning of the prisoner. 'They have them hooded and they pour water on them. That makes it very difficult to breath. I think you can't die with the submarine. I certainly never saw anyone die. However, they do cough like crazy because they are totally submerged in water and that gets on their lungs. Perhaps what it can give you is serious pneumonia'. The civilians who took part in the interrogations used the submarine whenever they wanted. They gave it to them for five or 10 minutes and didn't ask anything."
Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh defines the method of torture as the questioning of the victim's reality. The victim's inner personal narrative must be replaced by the regime's official discourse: "The victims are made to speak the words of the regime, to replace their own reality with that of the state, to double the voice of the state." In the case of the prisoners at Bagram, ordinary men and women lose their own identity and take on the personality of Al-Qaida because this is what the narrative of the current regime requires. "The goal of torture, in effect, is to produce acceptance of a State discourse, through confession of putrescence...The victim does not take on the glorious voice of the regime, but rather its opposite, the voice of corruption."
These methods have been well-engineered: "An important subject was that of psychological torture, administered by psychiatrists. 'They tell them they are going to kill their children, rape their wives. And you see on their faces, in their eyes, the terror that that causes them. Because, of course, we know all about those people. We know the names of their children, where they live - we show them satellite photos of their houses. It is worse than any torture. That is not morally acceptable under any circumstances. Not even with the worst terrorist in the world', says Corsetti, before adding: 'Sometimes, we put one of our women (female US military personnel) in burqas and we made them walk through the interrogation rooms and we told them: 'That is your wife'. And the prisoner believed it. Why wouldn't they! We had those people going without sleep for a whole week. After two or three days with no sleep, you believe anything. In fact, it was a problem. The interpreters couldn't understand what they were saying. The prisoners were having hallucinations. Because, of course, this is not like if you or me go three days without sleep when we're partying. I've gone five days without sleep when I've been partying. But this is different. You're in a cell where they let you sleep only a quarter of an hour every now and then. With no contact with the outside world. Without seeing sunlight. Like that, a days seems like a week. Your mental capacity is destroyed."
"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." Clearly, this is one of primary purposes of torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Detainees are made to take on the identities of terrorists in order to vindicate their master's fantasies of his heroic role in the battle against world terror. "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 certain type of power/knowledge which I will call the imagination of the state...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] both the production of that threat [against the state] and the response to it, and thus the ritual site at which the state produces the reality in which its pretensions to omnipotence consist."
As Christians, we can only behold the pretensions of empire with pity and pray that the perpetrator-victims and the suffering-victims can find that place "In the crucifixion of the world where suffering is transformed into power by Truth and Love and thus redeemed, it strikes at the root of injustice in man."
See http://www.juancole.com/2007/12/former-us-interrogator-recounts-torture.html for the full interview of Daniel Corsetti.