"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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Voices of the Heart

"It was still dark. I dressed in that darkness. When I was ready I grabbed an MRE (meal ready to eat) and got in the truck. The targets were three houses where RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attacks had come from a few days before. Sitting there listening to the briefing I let my mind wander and said a prayer. 'Just one more day, God, let me live one more day and we will go from there ... ' It was the same prayer I said every day.

"There were different people to meet each day. There were some who would kill you if they could ... you could see the hate in their eyes. I also met people who would have given me everything they owned ... so thankful because we had rid them of Saddam.

"After the briefing we convoyed to the raid site. I was to go in directly after the military police who would clear the buildings. The raid began without a hitch. I was inside the courtyard of a house questioning a woman when I heard gunfire. Ducking next to the stone wall I yelled at the woman to get inside.

"When the gunfire stopped I peeked around the front gate. I saw a soldier pulling rear security who was still aiming his M249 machine gun at a black truck off in the distance. His was the weapon I had heard.

"I ran up and overheard the captain asking what had happened and why this soldier had opened fire. The soldier answered that he had seen a man holding an AK-47 in the back of the black truck. I was among the four, including the soldier who had fired, selected to go check on that truck.

"We were out of breath when we got to the gun-truck nearest to the black civilian truck. There were four Iraqis walking towards us from the black truck. They were carrying a body, a small boy no more than 3 years old. His head was cocked at the wrong angle and there was blood. So much blood. The Iraqi men were crying and asking me WHY?

"Someone behind me started screaming for a medic. It was the young soldier who had fired. He screamed for a medic until he was hoarse. A medic came just to tell us what we already knew: The boy was dead.

"I stood there looking at that little child, someone's child just like mine, and seeing how red the clean white shirt of the man holding the boy was turning. Then I realized I was speaking to them, speaking in a voice that sounded so very far away. I heard my voice telling them how sorry we were. My mouth was saying this but all my mind could focus on was the hole in the child's head. The white shirt covered in bright red blood. I couldn't stop looking even as I kept telling them how sorry we were.

"I can still see it all to this day. There were no weapons found and we accomplished nothing besides killing a child. I stayed as long as I could, talking to the man holding the child. I couldn't leave because I needed to know who they were. I wanted to remember. The man was the child's uncle, minding him for his father who had gone to the market. They were carpenters and what the soldier who had fired on the truck had seen was one of the Iraqi men standing in the truck bed, holding a piece of wood.

"Before I left I saw the young soldier who had killed the boy. His eyes were unfocused and he was just standing there, staring off into the distance. My hand went to my canteen and I took a drink of water. That soldier looked so lost, so I offered him a drink. In a hoarse voice he quietly thanked me.

"Later that day we were filling out reports about what we had witnessed. The captain who had led the raid was angry: 'Well, this is just great! Now we have to go give that family bags of money to shut them up ... '

"A family had just lost their beautiful baby boy, and this man is worried about having to pay for a family's grief and sorrow.

"To this day I still think about that raid, that family, that boy. I wonder if they are attacking us now. I would be. If someone took the life of my son or my daughter nothing other than my own death would stop me from killing them. I still cry when the memory hits me. And I cry when I think of how very far away I am from my family. I am not there, just like the boy's father wasn't there. I have served my time. I have my nightmares. I have enough blood on my hands. Just let me be a father, a husband, a daddy again.

-Sgt. Zachary Scott-Singley

It is stories such as these that display a heart being filled with light through its own grief. Wisdom has been borne in at least one heart this day. Let us turn to the grief that still lives within us, lest the fingers that are wrapping themselves around so many voices in this land of fear squeeze shut.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Vanquished Know War

"The vanquished know the essence of war – death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity." - Hedges, Chris. "What Every Person Should Know About War"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

What Drives the Torment?

"The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, 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 a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both." - "In U.S. Report, Brutal Details Of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths", New York Times, May 20, 2005

"You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil." -- St Seraphim of Sarov

A voice from a saner world. What strikes the tone of self-knowledge is the sentence, "We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves." The gloating self-satisfaction on the faces of the soldiers in the torture photos is a mask that must be pierced. No, they are not happy and proud of what they have done, though the media ring it boldly for the next decade. Nor are we proud of our silence and compliance. Let us pray that the chill which holds us in its grip, the cold smiles, the tinny laughter like ice pellets on a car roof, will melt with the breath of the Holy Spirit and rouse the poor to cry out to the Lord.

Magic Markers into Tattoos

An Iraqi man has his forehead marked with "K2"

"That picture where that unnamed man’s furrowed forehead is marked "K2" by the marine captures the fundamental process of dehumanization that you will find if you scratch the surface of all major 20th century atrocities. That man is no longer a man for those soldiers: he is a detainee, a number, a representation of the enemy, of the people who shoot at them, the people who they hate, people who they are scared of, people that aren’t people. He can be blindfolded, marked, humiliated before his heartbroken family, taken away at will.

Once you cross that line, some of those soldiers will eventually abuse, torture and kill some of those “non-people.” This isn’t even an indictment of American culture, rather, this is the fundamental lesson of a bloody century: dehumanization is the first step towards atrocity. The particular way in which we do this may be influenced by our culture --and where else have you seen such a pornographic interest in the victims-- but we are hardly unique or immune. In fact, reading about that very disturbing account of Dilawar’s death in Bagram, Afghanistan published last week in the New York Times made me think that we seem to have arrived somewhere between Chile and Argentina during the military dictatorships in terms of systematization of the torture.

The question facing us is whether we will stop before magic markers turn into tattoos." - Under the Same Sun, May 25, 2005

Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.
He puts an end to wars over all the earth;
the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps.
He burns the shields with fire.
"Be still and know that I am God,
supreme among the namtions, supreme on the earth!"

The Lord of hosts is with us:
The God of Jacob is our stronghold."